Washington, D.C.—Pizza is a vegetable, right? According to Congress, it should be. Congress’ proposed changes to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-mandated school lunch programs have some people questioning whether the government has our children’s or our corporations’ best interests in mind.

As stated in the White House’s fact sheet, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010 benefits all students with additional access to healthier, low-fat and low-sodium foods as a way to combat childhood obesity. The legislation especially tries to help low-income families by increasing the eligibility through Medicaid for children to be given free, healthy meals and afterschool snacks. Schools benefit with additional funding for their lunches, along with improving the quality and safety of their food by following USDA nutritional standards for all vending machines and lunches. It also requires schools to be audited every three years, provides training for food servers and connects schools with farms to encourage eating and buying locally. The bill allots $4.5 billion to be spent over 10 years, but also states that Congress is required to periodically review and reconsider funding, as is happening now.

Food companies and agricultural groups, specifically frozen food distributors and the potato industry, feel they are losing business because of the strict USDA guidelines, according to the Washington Post. Congress is proposing that two tablespoons of tomato paste should be enough to count as a serving of vegetables, instead of the quarter-cup required now, allowing pizza to be categorized as a vegetable dish. In addition, they want “whole grains” to be better defined before being required and more studies to be done on the effects of long-term sodium reduction, thus allowing more starch and salt from foods like French fries in school meals. Congress has come under fire by supporters of the original Act for its willingness to put aside the needs of children to please big businesses. According to The New York Times, in a statement from the Agriculture Department, “While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, U.S.D.A. remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children.”

As of January 2011, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was jointly released by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with greater emphasis on taking in less calories and exercising more. Tips for a healthier life included to enjoy food but eat less by avoiding large portions, exclude whole milk and choose fat-free or low-fat instead, drink water instead of soda and reduce sodium intake. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines were the 7th edition of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines, mandated by Congress to help aid in nutrition assistance programs like school lunches.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2012