Does Tomato Paste Count as a Vegetable Serving?

Forget everything I’ve ever told you: Pizza is a vegetable.

Confused? Shocked? Disgusted? Join the club. A few days ago, the U.S. Congress proposed pizza and French fries remain school lunch staples, despite standards proposed by the Agriculture Department earlier this year that would have limited the use of potatoes, put restrictions on sodium and boosted whole grains.

The reason, as always, is money. Somehow, there’s always enough of it to keep wars going but inadequate amounts to keep Americans healthy.

Unfortunately, the new spending bill proposed by Congress would not only put the kibosh on plans for healthier lunches, it would also allow tomato paste to be counted as a vegetable. What’s next? Is Elmer’s Paste a vegetable too?

The government has a terrible track record when it comes to subsidizing healthy foods, and not only in schools. Genetically modified and genetically engineered foods pervade our society because they are cheap to produce, cheap to buy and cheap to cook with. But at what cost is this to our health and to our children’s development, which studies have shown is hindered or altered by hormones commonly found in genetically modified foods?

Schools should be using fresh produce grown by local, organic farms, and not only because the vegetables will be fresher and more nutritious. School districts would likely save money buying locally-sourced goods, because the transit time (and therefore gas costs) would be lower than if the food has to be shipped across state lines. It’s sustainable and sensible.

The new bill would also require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA, but I think the childhood obesity epidemic in this country is proof enough of the need to reinforce healthy eating habits. Children go to school to learn, and the learning shouldn’t stop just because it’s lunch time. Every meal is an opportunity to educate kids on the difference between a whole grain and white bread; between starchy vegetables like peas and corn and wholesome ones like broccoli and asparagus; between tomato paste and actual tomatoes.

If President Obama is as committed to taking on childhood obesity as his wife claims he is, then he’ll strongly consider the long- and short-term implications of signing a spending bill that would doubtless increase health care costs for an increasingly obese population, young and old.

Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™ at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to, Fox Business Channel and Fox News Channel. Check out her website at