Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Let Them Eat Tomato Paste!

25 years ago Reagan declared that ketchup was a vegetable in an attempt to red wash the greasy, salty, processed foods served in school cafeterias. Today, in spite of Michelle Obama’s duplicitous attempt to nip the obesity epidemic in the bud (see here and here), we are seeing the same game replayed, with Congress approving agriculture appropriations language allowing the tomato paste on pizza to be considered a serving of vegetables under the USDA’s new school lunch guidelines.

If we really cared about our children’s health, we would do away completely with processed foods manufactured thousands of miles away and trucked across the country in a plume of carbon dioxide and particulate air pollution. We would retrain and promote the low wage factotums who presently reheat and serve these prefabricated meals into actual cooks who prepare fresh, organic, locally grown meats, cheese and produce. We would teach children to enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables and flavors that are not dependent on high levels of salt, fat and sugar. We would bring physical education back as a daily class for kids of all ages and invest in more after school athletics and dance programs. We would ensure that all families have sufficient food to eat at home, every day of the year, and that they all have access to free or affordable health care.

In actuality, children’s health, like everything else in our society, is irrelevant except as much as it can be used to make a profit. What really matters is that processed food giants like ConAgra, Schwan Food, Nestle and Unilever continue to get access to the billions of federal tax dollars that are funneled each year into school lunch programs. Not only does this put cash directly into their pockets, but it helps shape children’s eating habits and preferences so that they will continue to purchase large quantities of their salty, sugary, fatty products as adults.

The legislation came in response to lobbying by ConAgra and Schwan Food, one of the world’s largest producers of frozen pizzas, according to the OB Rag. It also came in the wake of a Senate amendment that blocked the USDA from limiting the quantity of potatoes served in school lunches, a rule pushed by senators in the potato states of Maine and Colorado.

Pizza and potatoes are probably the two most popular foods at school. However, there is no reason why they cannot continued to be served, but why not using fresh produce and prepared from scratch, on site, with less salt, sugar and fat? Pizzas do not have to be doughy Frisbees overflowing with commodity ground beef, sausage, pepperoni and American cheese. Likewise, there are countless delicious and healthy alternatives to tater tots, like potatoes boiled and served with butter and herbs, baked, roasted, mashed, or served sliced in salad.

None of this is happening any time soon, so if kids want healthy food at school, they will have to bring it from home. If their parents cannot afford it, they can always apply for one of the low wage scab custodian jobs that will open up after Newt Gingrich gets elected.

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