Pizza a Vegetable? Congress—and Parents—Should Know Better

Lawmakers prioritize lobbyists over the best interests of its constituents.

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Congress, by definition, is meant to represent the electorate. Its members are supposed to listen to constituents, to hear their concerns, and to act more or less accordingly. But that does not mean Congress should abandon its responsibility to exercise better judgment.

This failure is usually played out in budget matters. Voters don't want to pay taxes, for example, but they also want good schools, safe roads and bridges, and Social Security checks after they retire. Many voters have an automatic distaste for any kind of government control or regulation, but they also want safe and tested drugs, clean water and air, and toys from China that are not toxic. Perhaps it's a natural human state to want to have it both ways. And Congress, elected to make the tough decisions, should not encourage that childish demand from their constituents.

[Debate Club: Is a flat tax a good idea?]

And that brings us to pizza. It's a popular meal (or, increasingly in ever-more-obese America, a snack). It's delicious, especially when dripping with fatty cheese. And nor should it be dismissed as a "bad" food never to be consumed. In moderation, pizza can be part of a healthful diet.

It is not, however, a vegetable.

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives, however, disagrees, and voted with the powerful and wealthy frozen food industry to maintain pizza's status as a vegetable in school meals as long as the food item contains at least two tablespoons of tomato sauce. The rejected change in the standard wasn't even all that dramatic; it simply would have required a half cup of tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable serving. The whole debate makes the Reagan-era flap over ketchup-as-a-vegetable look dignified. The difference is that the previous episode served to tar the Reagan administration as favoring dollars over children's health. The recent action by the House may well cheer on those who don't believe the government should get involved at all in setting nutritional standards and goals for children.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the GOP.]

They have a point—a small one. Government standards do not absolve parents from doing a better job feeding their children and preventing the childhood obesity that will not only deprive the youngsters of life and quality of life, but will cost the healthcare system billions of dollars. Still, it's more difficult for parents to control their children's diets when the food available at the school cafeteria is of poor nutritional quality.

Parents need to be encouraging better judgment in their children. And Congress ought to have the courage to exercise better judgment than lobbies more interested in money than public health.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.
  • Read Laura Chapin on the "super committee" stalemate.
  • Read Dr. Brent Wallace on making healthcare more affordable.