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The Washington Post reports that food industry lobbyists have convinced the US Senate and House of Representatives to reject a move by the Obama administration and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to mandate that school lunches be more nutritious by offering more fruits and vegetables and reduce the amount of starch and tomato paste included in meals.

According to the story, opponents of any change argued that the cost of vegetables would make such a change economically prohibitive, especially at a time when many school districts are economically challenged.

The story notes that “the USDA proposal, based on recommendations from the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, would put a one-cup-per-week limit on the amount of white potatoes and other starchy vegetables served to schoolchildren.

“The proposal also would have nixed the favorable treatment granted to tomato paste.

“Currently, an eighth of a cup of tomato paste is credited with as much nutritional value as half a cup of vegetables and thus counts as one vegetable serving. That enables foodmakers to better market their pizzas to schools.

“The argument for the special consideration given to tomato paste has been that once it’s mixed with water, as often happens in making pizza sauce, more of a vegetable is created.

“The USDA wants to bring tomato paste in line with how other fruit pastes and purees are treated.

“Ordinarily, these types of issues would be hashed out as the USDA gathers comments from the public while finalizing the proposal. But several lawmakers made an end run around the process. They added amendments to block the two changes — on starchy vegetables and tomato paste — to agriculture spending bills moving through the Senate and House.”

Margo Wootan, a director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, responded to the move: “Given all the concern about childhood obesity, Congress should be helping schools serve healthier foods, not hurting that effort.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal this morning reports on a new analysis of federal data that “provides a dismal picture of children's cardiovascular health that suggests the current generation of teenagers could be at risk of increased heart disease” and “found that the adolescents performed poorly overall on a set of seven criteria set by the American Heart Association for ideal cardiovascular health.”

According to the story, “Diet in particular was a problem, with not one of the 5,450 children randomly selected for the survey from the U.S. population meeting the standards for diet. Taking out the diet measure, still just 16.4% of boys and 11.3% of girls were rated ideal on all of the other six criteria, which included smoking, exercise, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.”

It was just last week, the Journal notes, that “the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute called for all children between 9 and 11 years old to get a cholesterol test in an effort to detect heart risk at an early age.”
KC's View:
First of all, I’m with Jon Stewart on this one. With all the crap going on in this country, the one thing that Congress can agree on is that pizza is a vegetable and that kids ought not be restricted in their access to french fries. (Maybe that’s what they’ve been feeding the Super Committee.)

I love french fries. I love pizza. I mean, I really love them. So much so that I have to be careful about how much I consume. And I always tried to be careful about how much I fed my kids.

I realize that Congress isn’t really saying that pizza is a vegetable, but this decision has the potential of being seen in the same light as the old “ketchup is a vegetable” ruling back in the eighties.

I realize that there is an argument that dictating what kids can eat in school-served lunches could be seen as an unnecessary government intrusion, but the opposing argument is that the physical conditioning of our kids is not just a health care issue, but a national security issue. That’s a pretty compelling argument ... and I think that if we’re trying to educate our kids, it seems eminently sensible to give them healthier food and a rounded diet - which can include pizza and french fries, but with some intelligent limits.

What people really ought to be upset by is the fact that lobbyists seem to have this kind of sway in Washington. The subject may be pizza and french fries, but we’re really talking about the meat and potatoes of how Washington works. And it is sort of disgusting.

Best government money can buy.

I cannot help but think of the speech that Arthur Jensen, the network executive played by Ned Beatty, delivers to Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in Network:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today

And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU... WILL... ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

Can I get an Amen?