Rep. Jared Polis unveiled new legislation Monday to reverse a previous decision by Congress that defined pizza as a vegetable in school meals.
The bill, appropriately named the School Lunch Improvements for Children's Education Act, or SLICE, would help set nutrition standards for pizza in school meals. It does this in three ways, according to a press release from Polis' camp:
> Allow the United States Department of Agriculture to accurately count 1/8 of a cup of tomato paste as 1/8 of a cup, instead of half of a cup, which qualifies pizza as a vegetable;
> Allow the USDA to implement science-based sodium reduction targets;
> Allow the USDA to set a whole-grain requirement.
Last year, the USDA proposed a rule that would have prevented pizza from being counted as a vegetable in meals, but Congress succumbed to lobbying from the frozen food industry and blocked it, according to the release.
"Agribusinesses should never dictate the quality of school meals," Polis said. "Big food companies have their priorities, which include selling cheap, unhealthy foods at high profits. But parents and schools have their priorities: making sure our kids eat right because research shows a clear connection between nutrition and student performance in school."
While tomato paste has a small amount of nutrients, pizza is loaded with sugar, salt, bread and cheese, which carry a great deal of fat and carbohydrates that turn into sugar during digestion. Categorizing pizza as a vegetable because of its small amount of tomato paste is exactly the wrong approach, as type II diabetes rates among children and child obesity continue to climb, the release said.
"It's great that Polis is proposing this," said Joanna Rybak, LiveWell Summit County director and food policy council co-chair. "He's always been really into healthy eating ... and I think this is another example."
But, in Rybak's opinion, tomato paste shouldn't be counted as a vegetable in the first place because it's processed. Pizza sauces are usually loaded with sugar and salt, she said.
Local parent and Silverthorne Elementary Wellness Team member Catherine Kirkwood Smith echoed Rybak's sentiments.
"As parents we appreciate that there are people willing to fight this. We appreciate another step forward," she said. "Also, I feel like we're lucky that on a local level, we can do even more."
With Congress preparing to re-authorize farm and nutrition programs this year, Polis hopes the SLICE Act can be incorporated into the larger agriculture bill should it be acted on this season.