Out to lunch: Congress puts the food lobby above child nutrition
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Back in the 1980s when Americans weren't as obese, the Reagan administration tried to have ketchup declared a vegetable to cut the cost of the nation's school lunches.
Looking back on that White House public relations disaster, it still feels more apocryphal than real. The attempt to classify the tasty red goo as a vegetable represented short-term thinking at its worst. It was emblematic of a White House willing to embrace absurdity on behalf of clients in the fast-food industry.
Fast forward to 2011. Congress has already forgotten the lessons of that disgraceful episode. In response to the Obama administration's efforts to banish french fries, pizza and other high-fat or high-sodium or high-sugar foods from school cafeterias, lawmakers have been resisting efforts to replace junk food with leafy green vegetables.
Earlier this year, the Agriculture Department proposed school lunch standards that would limit the use of sodium and potatoes while boosting whole grains. After intense lobbying by various members of the food industry, lawmakers pushed back on the Obama White House's attempt to curb child obesity.
The spending bills passed Thursday by the House and Senate contained provisions that will undermine the USDA's effort by, among other things, allowing tomato paste on pizza to be counted as a vegetable. Along the way, lawmakers also generally decried the government's role in "dictating" what America's children eat through regulations that would cost certain industries access to school lunch rooms.
Meanwhile, obesity rises among young people, in part, because of the very foods Congress is reluctant to curb. As in the 1980s, there are politicians today who put the food industry's profit ahead of the nutritional needs of children. Too bad fat kids are less important to them than fat campaign contributions.
First Published November 21, 2011 12:00 am