Tag Archives: Livestrong

LIVESTRONG: February 19, 2012, Austin, Texas

The weather was a little chilly during the small hours of the morning.  At around 5:30am, the temperature was somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-seven degrees.  And, of course, the wind knew little mercy.

Sounds like the perfect day for a brisk little run, no?

Earlier today, I was privileged to join more than 20,000 runners and approximately 40,000 spectators who descended upon downtown Austin, Texas for the LIVESTRONG Marathon and the LIVESTRONG Half-Marathon.

I’m not sure that I can find the appropriate words to describe the experience of the half-marathon, simply because the passion was almost overwhelming and the emotions were very nearly tangible.  I’m certain that folks who are better able to reduce inspiration to text will post the details on a different blog or website.  I’ll simply note that this is the first time that I’ve been part of an event where I truly felt that most participants were not competing against each other, but rather racing for something greater.

I will, however, also note that it’s time to check the calendar and save the date for the next LIVESTRONG Marathon and Half-Marathon, because February 17, 2013 is quickly approaching.

LEGISLATORS, LOBBYISTS AND SCHOOL LUNCHES: heroic efforts to save our children, one frozen pizza at a time

Scientists are constantly identifying new species.  These plants and animals are often discovered in remote parts of the world, such as uncivilized and unexplored rainforests or deep within uncharted oceans.  For example, we recently welcomed the aquatic Rogue Mushroom (Psathyrella aquatica), Darwin’s bark spider (Caerostris darwini) Attenborough’s Pitcher (Nepenthes attenboroughii) and the edible Udderly Weird Yam (Dioscorea orangeana).

These new species haven’t received nearly as much mainstream attention as the latest discovery: an edible vegetable commonly known as a frozen pizza.  This vegetable is hardy and versatile; it can be found thriving in a wide range of harsh environments, including school lunchrooms and the coldest parts of grocery stores.

Alright, this isn’t necessarily a new discovery.  Federal regulations have historically classified frozen pizzas as vegetables so long as they contain at least 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.  The reasoning for the classification is probably pretty darn simple: frozen pizzas are made with tomato sauce, and tomatoes are vegetables, and therefore frozen pizzas must be vegetables.  It’s a straightforward and nutritious application of the transitive property of mathematics.

The reasoning and the application are also arguably erroneous.  Tomatoes are generally not classified as vegetables; they are generally considered to be fruits.

Regardless, the classification is important for several reasons. First, applying this transitive property of nutrition, I can sprinkle trace amounts of a green, leafy substance on dozens of chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries and feel as if I’ve consumed a healthy and nutritious meal. That’s one heck of a breakthrough, and I already feel noticeably thinner and far more athletic.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the classification impacts the administrative of federal cash subsidies.  Under the current law, schools qualify for federally subsidized lunches only when they serve food to students that meets certain nutritional guidelines.  Schools that serve frozen pizzas that qualify as vegetables are more readily able to satisfy these nutritional guidelines and therefore qualify for federal subsidized lunches.

Simple, right?  Maybe.  The United States Department of Agriculture is much better at explaining this:

[p]ublic or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Well, the USDA recently attempted to raise the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  Frozen pizzas would therefore require more tomato sauce to qualify as vegetables, at least in the eyes of the law.

If the proposed regulations were officially enacted, schools would have a financial disincentive to sell traditional frozen pizzas to students.  They would likely only sell frozen pizzas that met the heightened threshold, because otherwise the schools would have greater difficulty in meeting the nutritional requirements for cash subsidized.

Manufacturers of frozen pizzas were that concerned using 1/2 cup of tomato sauce to prepare frozen pizzas would increase the costs associated with production.  They’re probably right, and they were angry.  Some responded by hiring lobbyists.  This made the lobbyists happy.

The happy lobbyists complained to Congress on behalf of the angry manufacturers.  Congress acted upon their demands by including a provision within H.R. 2112, a recent minibus funding bill, that prevented the USDA from raising the threshold from 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to 1/2 cup of tomato sauce.  On November 17, 2011, Congress passed the minibus funding bill and the President signed it the very next day.

The new law ensures that schools likely will continue to sell frozen pizzas containing only 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce to students.  These frozen pizzas will also continue to be classified as vegetables, and students will therefore continue to consume the frozen pizzas at school.  Adolescents rejoiced.

Manufacturers no longer needed to worry about the potential for increased costs of producing the frozen pizza.  They were no longer angry.  They rejoiced.

The American Frozen Food Institute was the primary trade organization that lobbied Congress to maintain the traditional standards for classification of frozen pizzas as vegetables.  It may have represented frozen pizza sellers like ConAgra Foods Inc. and Schwan Food Co., but it was really working for the best interests of children.  Don’t believe me?  Consider that the trade organization:

  • stressed that children would benefit from this “important victory,” because any other action would “force companies… to change their products in a way that would make them unpalatable to students,”
  • noted that “we believe we can improve child nutrition by ensuring that schools are able to provide vegetables in any form… It’s a little bizarre for us that in trying to improve nutrition, you take items from school cafeterias that do provide vital sources of vitamins and nutrients.”

I’m not necessarily sure that I’m buying the trade association’s claim the frozen pizzas truly provide vitals sources of nutrients for students.  The nutritional values may vary from school to school and from pizza to pizza, but several fairly reliable sources indicate that frozen pizzas sold to children are the equivalent of intestinal garbage.  According to LIVESTRONG, for example, generic school pizzas contain around 530 calories per slice.  Each slice also reportedly contains 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat, 81 milligrams of cholesterol and a whopping 1333 milligrams of sodium.

Holy freakin’ bloated bellies, Batman!

Whatever.  I’ve ranted about childhood obesity in previous entries, so I’m not going to jump on the soapbox this morning.  Suffice it to say, though, we really shouldn’t be surprised that incidents of type 2 diabetes among children have been occurring with increasing frequency and childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past thirty years.  These are disturbing trends, and it appears that the trends are going to get worse before they get better.

I also don’t think that I’m over-exaggerating the severity of the issue by claiming that this act is indicative of the manner in which federal government caters to the interests of corporate America above the health of the nation’s children.  This isn’t necessarily shocking, simply because I’m not really surprised by any action taken by the federal government.  Heck, I wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if the federal government attempted to classify hot dogs and sausages as vegetables so long as they contain a modicum of ketchup.  That’s pretty unrealistic, but even far-out and far-fetched ideas are becoming more and more commonplace.

Wait.  What?  A previous administration already attempted to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

Oh brother.  I feel another rant coming on.  It’s probably best to just grab a pinch of a green leafy substance and get back to my hordes of healthy and nutritious chocolate frosted, cream-filled pastries.  I need to work on my figure, anyways.

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