Colorado Rep. Jared Polis wants Congress to crack down on the greasy, cheesy "vegetable" that he says has become an unhealthy staple of too many school lunches — pizza.
Polis unleashed a new piece of legislation he is calling the SLICE Act, which would enact tougher nutritional standards to the pizza served in lunch rooms across the country and declassify unhealthy versions of the popular lunch that he says are currently listed as vegetables.
In 2011, Congress voted in new standards under a wider United States Department of Agriculture funding bill that categorized pizza with one eighth cup of tomato paste in it as a vegetable the congressman says. The USDA standard for a serving of vegetables is one half of a cup. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
"To say a serving of pizza because it has tomato paste in it is the same as a green leafy vegetable is absurd," says Chris Fitzgerald, Polis's communication director.
Polis blames Congress for caving to the frozen food industry. The congressman argues categorizing pizza as a vegetable was ridiculous considering the high amounts of sugar, salt and cheese that are part of the pie.
"Agribusinesses should never dictated the quality of school meals," Polis said in a statement. "Big food companies have their priorities, which include selling cheap, unhealthy food at high profits. But parents and schools have their priorities; making sure our kids eat right." [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]
Under the SLICE Act, the USDA would have a chance to regulate lunchtime pizza by its own standards. The law gives the USDA the power to include a whole grain requirement for crust as well as set salt restrictions.
Polis argues this is just one way Congress could more aggressively combat the growing child obesity epidemic.
Fitzgerald says his boss isn't trying to steal pizza from pint-sized patrons, but is trying to emphasize a balanced diet.
"You have a piece of pizza, but then you have a serving of vegetables because pizza isn't the same thing," he says.