Teaching children to eat healthy is too costly for US Congress

Fighting childhood obesity–who could argue against it when 17% of American children, ages 2-19, are obese, and childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the last 30 years? (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) The US congress has argued and ruled against it! This mostly-male institution, made up of many fathers and grandparents, has decided that teaching healthier eating habits to America’s children is simply too expensive—never mind the long-term health care costs of childhood obesity—and besides, government shouldn’t be telling children what they can and cannot eat, GOP leaders defended.

Photograph leading Le Monde's article, "To American Congress tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable"

Against the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the US Department of Agriculture—as well as Mission: Readiness, a group of retired generals who sees America’s steep trend in childhood obesity as a threat to national security–the House and Senate voted to loosen the standards on healthy foods being served in school cafeterias–by calling pizza a vegetable, a main ingredient being tomato paste! (Why not call soda and candy vegetables too, a main ingredient being sugar—produced from sugar cane, a vegetable!)

Whose recommendations did our government follow instead? Those of Big Food lobbying interests:

“This agreement […] recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

Bloomberg News: Congress Pushes Back on Healthier School Lunches
Huffington Post: Pizza is a Vegetable? Congress Defies Logic, Betrays Our Children
Le Monde: Pour les élus américains, la sauce tomate des pizzas est un légume

UPDATE–November 28, 2011

The Washington Post: No, Congress did not declare pizza a vegetable

Congress passed a revised agriculture appropriations bill last week, essentially making it easier to count pizza sauce as a serving of vegetables. The move has drawn widespread outrage from consumer advocates and pundits, who see “pizza is a vegetable.” as outlandish.

There’s just one little misperception: Congress didn’t declare pizza to be a vegetable. And, from a strictly nutritional standpoint, there’s decent evidence that lawmakers didn’t exactly bungle this decision.

Let’s revisit the facts: Despite what one might expect from the headlines, if you scour the agriculture appropriations bill, referenced in numerous stories, you won’t find a single mention of the word “pizza,” or even “vegetable,” for that matter.

This is not a fight over pizza. It is, instead, a fight about tomato paste. Specifically, it’s a fight about how much of the product counts as one serving of vegetables.

[full article…]

Thank you, Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth/NYT, for pointing this out–a good example of how easy it is, for professionals and the amateurs relying on them, to “overplay” any news. But as Revkin, a blog veteran, also noted in an email exchange, “on the Web it’s very tough to get to bedrock, but the power of the web community lies in the reality that assertions and assumptions are all tested 24/7.”


The Huffington Post: Blogging Students Get Inside Look at New Media Model

Editors and reporters at The Huffington Post–including Arianna Huffington herself–took time this week to talk blogging and the changing world of news media with a group of student bloggers from Pace University. On a class trip with Prof. Andrew RevkinThe New York TimesDotEarth blogger, the group is the first to enroll in Blogging a Better Planet, a new course in Pace’s Media and Communications graduate program.

Following a tour of the AOL studios (parent company of The Huffington Post Media Group), Tom Zeller Jr., senior energy and environment reporter, showed the students to the HuffPost’s newsroom.

Even if you don’t follow the Post or are not sure what it is–online newspaper, blog-based news aggregator?–a few minutes navigating the website, realizing it started as a blog in 2005, ought to make you go “Wow!” But it’s not until you enter the HuffPost’s newsroom that the enormity of this news media machine actually dawns on you (my Blackberry photos do little justice).
Free to take pictures and video, we followed Mr. Zeller through wide open hallways, passing two employees on a ping-pong break, and gathered in a meeting room with Executive Editor Tim L. O’Brien, Managing Editor Nico Pitney, and Green Editor Joanna Zelman.  
During a conversation about the story of the HuffPost in the context of the evolution of blogs and news media, Mr. Pitney reflected on the intersection of newer and older media: bloggers writing columns based on research and fact-oriented reporting, and traditional journalism adapting to the fast, real-time pace of the Internet.
Mr. O’Brien spoke of the decline of “noise” and “proforma” in news blogging and validated the Post’s combination of aggregated and original content with some impressive numbers: the news site publishes 30-40 articles averaging 800-1,200 words, daily; and 4-5 stories averaging 4-5,000 words, weekly. While he was quick to remind us of the complex technological machine behind the Internet newspaper, he always returned to the HuffPost’s commitment to building community. This progressive socialization would make the HuffPost the Facebook of news and information. For Mr. O’Brien, tapping into the passions of readers and contributors, and inviting discussions about public concerns, is the way to understand and reflect the changing world we are experiencing.
Asked about editorial “quality control,” Joanna Zelman talked about the social responsibility of news media and opportunities for adding content value to “the cute” and popular. She gave the example of a recent trending video about the new arrival of cute Tiger Cubs at the Taronga Zoo, in Sidney, Australia. While the cubs’ video was the big draw–helped by a video-focused headline–the Green Editor seized the chance to bring awareness to the endangered species: the cubs at the Sidney zoo represent nearly 1% of the wild Sumatran Tiger population worldwide. As Mr. Pitney put it, it’s about ” the sugar with the medicine.”
Nico Pitney and Tim O’Brien also discussed editorial and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) considerations behind headlines, types of readership, and the value of pushing a story and sticking with it.
President and Editor-in-Chief, Arianna Huffington–now also a 2011 Glamour Woman of the Year honoree–made a surprise visit, and engaged with the students taking an interest in their blog ventures. We posed for a picture, and we all left with our choice of two of her most recent books (autographed): “Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream”  and “On Becoming Fearless…in Love, Work, and Life.”

From left are AramisGrant, Amarylis Martinez, Arianna Huffington, Eunice Cunha (a.k.a., Amador Square), Justin Jones, Jennifer Price, Cem Aridag and Andrew Revkin.

Thank you to our gracious hosts for a very exciting visit and conversation!