When we mocked Ragu last spring for its vegetable emphasis, the company pointed out that "Ragu has more than a full serving of veggies in every ½ cup." Now the spaghetti sauce manufacturer says it's 2 servings in every ½ cup.
Seems like Ragu took a lesson from the USDA or vice versa, as the GOP-led House has pushed through a spending bill that peels away some of the gains made in the school lunch program. The press and comedy shows had fun with this GOP-led House bill making pizza into a vegetable. What got missed in the humor and depression is that the USDA has virtually made pizza into a vegetable already.
The USDA counts tomato paste as a vegetable now, but to be fair, the organization has "standards." The requirement for the USDA was to count a ½ cup of tomato paste as a serving, something where pizza currently falls short. The House bill wanted to change that to make the tomato paste in pizza count as a vegetable, even at less than ½ cup.
Tomatoes and cooked tomatoes should certainly count as a vegetable, unlike potatoes, especially French fries and, dare we say, tater tots. The argument that Ragu and the USDA make is tomatoes count, no matter in what form and what might be alongside.
After all, if we were to drop our hypocrisy for a second, we don't like vegetables unless they're covered in something, and we do use sugar as a way to eat our veggies. "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way."
Common salad dressings have sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Candied carrots. Sometimes, the pacifier isn't sweet, but salty. Processed dip mixes. Or buttery, as in asparagus in butter sauce, or cheesy, as broccoli either covered in cheese or smothered in a "cheese" sauce.
So we have accepted that vegetables need a little push to get them through our internal systems. However, this doesn't let the USDA or the Republicans in Congress off the hook.
In mocking Ragu, at least the spaghetti sauce is healthier for you than the pizza in school lunchrooms. Sure both the spaghetti sauce and the pizza sauce is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and salt, and they are used on white flour products. However, the fat content of the mozzarella cheese on top of pizza and the nitrates in the meat usually featured on a school lunch pizza outweighs the parmesan cheese, even the kind from the green can, on spaghetti.
Feeding kids in the home (the Ragu commercial features a kid) deserves a modicum of protection, but somehow, feeding kids in a public school would demand higher standards. So even if ½ cup of tomato paste counts as a serving of vegetables, the USDA has the power to make that tomato paste mean more than the minimum standards it insists on setting. No amount of political pressure should reduce that even further.
Since the rule would need to be written in bureaucraticese, this is what we have in mind:
"If the only vegetable in a school lunch item, as noted in Section 1-6, Article 2, paragraph 4, meets the minimum standard of ½ cup of tomato paste, then the school lunch item can only count as a "vegetable" if the school lunch item also contains ½ cup of vegetables in solid form, only ¼ cup of which can be carrots, in solid form only, as noted in Section 1-3, Article 5, paragraph 2."
In English, what this means is that if you want to count pizza as a vegetable, you have to have real solid vegetables on the pizza. Yes, that pizza would still have too much high-fructose corn syrup in the sauce, too much starch in the crust, too much fat in the cheese, and too many nitrates in the meat, but you would be able to look at it and say "that has vegetables." or as Herman Cain would put it "a sissy pizza." And ketchup wouldn't be counted as a vegetable. Neither would French fries or tater tots.
The Republicans in these circumstances say "we don't want the government telling us what to eat." In the regular world, this isn't an issue. If you are a 10-year-old in a public school and your parents didn't pack you a lunch, the government is going to set guidelines on what happens in the school cafeteria, so the government will have some influence. Unless you want to get rid of publicly funded school lunches.
Until the GOP dumps the Department of Education and the school lunch program, those who want better school lunches will have to fight tooth and nail for our children to have better standards in the school lunch room. The late-night comedians can only do so much.
photo credit: Ragu