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.”


Low on Battery and on Cash

Yesterday, the balmy Autumn-like morning inspired a trip to the Peekskill, NY, farmers’ market to check out the harvest and, possibly, come away with some video or images of the city–which is quite a bustling place on Saturday mornings. I drove to Peekskill tuned to WNYC, and two of my favorite voices–Ella & Satchmo–filled the air with “Autumn in New York” (for once, Jonathan Schwartz wasn’t playing Frank Sinatra). Everything was coming up roses, until my camera’s battery was found to be on its last gasp, and I was caught trying to pay for $11 worth of peaches and potatoes with 8 singles.

Unaware this embarrassment was about to unfold, I asked the farmer, “Where’s Mifflinburg, PA?” after reading the print on the truck behind the stand. “Four hours away!” he said. And the conversation went on, while I counted my singles. He and his children get up at the ungodly hour of 1:30 am for the trip. “I love it!” he assured me, and his kids have no complaints: they sleep soundly on the road. When I finally said to him, “I’ll have to leave the peaches behind. I only have $8,” he smiled and shrugged, “It happens. You’ll owe me $3 next time!” he said. “What is your name?” I had to ask, and wanted to know. “Jonie!” “Thank you, Jonie!

An ATM machine was only a block away, so I didn’t make Jonie wait a week for my dues. The beauty of it is that Jonnie had no way of knowing if I would ever be back. In fact, this was only my second time at that market this season. I’m a regular patron of the Cold Spring market, further north along the Hudson–where we get to have Block Factory black-bean tamales and all-fruit Go-Go Pops for lunch. But I doubt there is another Jonie in Peekskill or Cold Spring.

My battery let me get away with one this one image of Jonie at work: