On Tuesday, Congress decided that pizza is a vegetable. I have to imagine that this news instilled confusion in many Americans, as many Americans are (a) familiar with pizza, (b) familiar with vegetables and (c) sane.
But, to provide specifics that will in no way dispel your lingering thoughts that we are governed by morons but at least allow you some anthropological insight into how a group of morons who have been given permission to sit in a fancy room in Washington, D.C., and grunt at each other actually think, here is their thinking: Pizza is a vegetable for the purposes of determining what goes into public school lunches by virtue of the fact that pizza traditionally includes a schmear of tomato paste. (Botanically speaking, tomatoes are actually fruit, but we're going to have to just let that slide.)
At any rate, you may still be wondering how it came to pass that Congress arrived at the conclusion that pizza could count as a serving of vegetables. Wonder no more! Congress was guided along this path by lobbyists. And lobbyists can do all sorts of things, by magic! (Except provide nutritious lunches for children.)
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year. These include limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line, putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. The legislation would block or delay all of those efforts.
The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to only count a half-cup of tomato paste or more as a vegetable, and a serving of pizza has less than that.
Nutritionists say the whole effort is reminiscent of the Reagan administration's much-ridiculed attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs. This time around, food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes and lobbied Congress.
"School meals that are subsidized by the federal government must include a certain amount of vegetables," the AP reports, "and USDA's proposal could have pushed pizza-makers and potato growers out of the school lunch business." It would have pushed vegetable growers into the business, but their lobbyists aren't as powerful, it seems.
In addition to this, the move to classify pizza as a vegetable gained traction because of popular, reality-transforming political philosophies on the role of government.
Piling on to the companies' opposition, some conservatives argue that the federal government shouldn't tell children what to eat. In a summary of the bill, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would "prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and ... provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals."
This sort of makes it sound like local school districts would be serving heirloom tomatoes and quinoa if the federal government just got out of the way. At any rate, I'd recommend that you remember this the next time you hear someone say that the government should get out of the business of "picking winners and losers." (Winner: salt! Loser: fighting obesity!)
Here's a fun fact! If a child incorrectly identifies "pizza" as a "vegetable" on a standardized test, there's an entirely different group of lobbyists who will argue that public school teachers have failed America's children.