THE BLOG

Congress Says Pizza and French Fries Are Vegetables!

11/16/2011 05:05 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2012

Like many of you, when I heard this I thought it had to be a headline from The Onion. But sadly I've realized that there are too many agri-businesses and politicians who are willing to allow our childhood obesity epidemic to continue. They don't care that our military is telling us that young people are too fat to fight, with only one in four meeting the fitness requirements for military service. They don't care that one in three children under the age of 18 will develop Type II Diabetes within their lifetime. They don't care that the rate of childhood obesity has doubled since 1980.

The United States has taken some small but important steps to improve nutritional standards for school lunches, which is the second largest food program in the country. Now the battle has taken a turn for the worse. Congress is poised to intervene to make sure that pizza continues to count as a vegetable and that we protect the privileged status of French fries on the lunch tray.

The people who defend unhealthy food in school nutrition programs cite issues of cost, waste, and -- unbelievably -- health.

I don't have anything against pizza, but it's common sense that you don't need calorie-laden pizza crust to deliver nutrients. And waste is not a product of giving people healthy choices. I invite anybody to come with me to visit Abernathy school in Portland, Oregon, where parents, students, and faculty have combined to have a vegetable drive -- an innovative food program where kids grow the food themselves, study it, prepare it, and eat it. As a result they are healthier and happier.

Come to the University of Portland where Bon Appétit, an innovative food service supplier, has cut waste by 70% while providing more and healthier choices.

The cost argument is the most bogus. We are talking about perhaps as much as 14 cents a meal.

That is less than Congress spends on subsidies for oil and gas companies each year. We could produce $25 to $30 billion in savings from direct payments, payments that usually go to large agribusiness conglomerates. Or, if we reform crop insurance to stop the obscene process of giving more to insurance agents than to farmers, we could save another $8 billion to $12 billion.

This is entirely within our capacity. If Congress goes along with this travesty and blames it on cost, shame on us.

The need to protect our children's health has never been clearer. The costs have never been more manageable. Indeed, better school nutrition will more than pay for itself in prevented healthcare costs.

Join me in urging Congress to reject this ill-advised initiative that would have us protecting pizza and French fries over the health of our children.