MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, this question. Should pizza be considered a vegetable? That's one of the questions at the heart of a food fight between the Obama administration and Congress. The administration has written new nutrition standards meant to get more fruits and vegetables into school lunches, but NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that lawmakers are set to give pizza the nutritional benefit of the doubt.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: What counts as a vegetable in the school cafeteria may sound like a pretty straightforward question, except when there's politics involved. People may remember the Regan era proposal to reclassify our most popular condiment as a vegetable. Now, it looks like Congress may change the way we think about pizza sauce.

MARGO WOOTAN: This may go down in nutritional history as the biggest blunder since Regan tried to declare ketchup as a vegetable.

AUBREY: Margo Wootan directs nutrition policy for the watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest. She says, if Congress gets its way, a slice of pizza with a bit of tomato sauce will count as a vegetable.

WOOTAN: It's ridiculous to call pizza a vegetable. It's not that a whole grain, low-fat pizza can't be a healthy entrée, but pizza should be served with a vegetable.

AUBREY: This is the whole point of new nutrition standards written by the Obama administration. Give kids more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and less salt and sugar, but some of the provisions made the food industry nervous.

For example, one said that for a slice of pizza to qualify as a vegetable serving, it had to have a half-cup of sauce on it. Corey Henry of the American Frozen Food Institute argues this would have pushed pizza right off the cafeteria menu.

COREY HENRY: A slice of pizza would literally be swimming in tomato paste. No kid at school is going to eat a piece of pizza that is just drenched in tomato paste.

AUBREY: So his group set out to convince lawmakers that the pizza they're currently making, with just two tablespoons of tomato sauce, is more than enough to make a vegetable serving.

HENRY: Tomato paste is almost unique in its ability to provide a very significant amount of critical nutrients. So, for example, pizza sauce in the form of tomato paste provides a very nutrient-rich source of vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber and the antioxidant lycopene.

AUBREY: Henry argues that any comparison to the 1980s ketchup as a vegetable controversy are just unfair.

HENRY: It's not even remotely close to that discussion. Not to disparage ketchup. I'm not aware that ketchup has the same ability to deliver vitamins to school kids.

AUBREY: It's not just the tomato sauce standard that lawmakers are rewriting. A provision meant to limit starchy vegetables, think French fries, has also had the potato lobbyists hard at work. The changes are expected to go through when the House votes on the Agriculture Appropriations Bill later this week.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.