‘If He’s Content With A Vegetable Love…’

The year is 1981. Ronald Reagan’s budget, eventually passed as the Gramm-Latta budget, slashes $27 billion from entitlements and specifically $1 billion from the school lunch program. As the wiki tells us,

On September 3, 1981, the Secretary of Agriculture proposed classifying ketchup and pickle relish as vegetables to save money on school lunch programs.

(Just for the record, the Secretary of Agriculture at the time, as the writer of the wiki seems reluctant to tell us, was Earl Butz, a heartless bastard if ever there was one.) So ketchup and pickle relish counted as vegetables in school lunches.

Fast-forward 30 years. Barack Obama’s USDA makes a more healthful recommendation… the tomato sauce or paste on a slice of pizza must amount to a half cup to count as a vegetable. But the House and Senate are having none of that. Pizza, b’gawd, is a vegetable, no matter that it’s almost impossible to put a half cup of tomato sauce into a single slice, and “a couple of tablespoons” is more typical. Oh, by the way… Congress received $5.6 million (see same article) in food industry lobby contributions.

That’s a fair trade, right? Children’s nutritional health for congressional contributions from industry lobbyists? And it’s a trade that Republicans AND Democrats have been willing to make for 30 years. As the sainted Molly Ivins used to say, we live in a greeeaaat nation.

The post title? It’s from “The Aesthete” in Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta Patience (here’s a YouTube):

And every one will say,
As you walk your flowery way,
“If he’s content with a vegetable love which would certainly not suit ME,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man this pure young man must be!”

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  • fallenmonk  On Wednesday November 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

    The Senate also bowed to the potato industry and removed the restrictions on starchy vegetables so that the french fry can remain in school lunches every day when the USDA wanted to restrict them to once a week. All these insane changes to the USDA recommendations for healthier school lunches are the result of intense lobbying by the companies that make crap that are being fed to the kids.

    • Steve  On Wednesday November 16, 2011 at 11:08 am

      fallenmonk, I love good french fries. I probably eat them once a week. If they’re well-prepared, they are a real weakness of mine. But as an adult I can make the trade-off of health vs. pleasure rationally. A kid is literally not able to make such a decision for him/herself. Serving fries every day in the school cafeteria is just asking for a generation of obese children… and sure enough, we are getting exactly that.

      The USDA (for which, full disclosure, I did some contract computer work a few years back) is in a difficult spot. They have a dual mandate: to research and promote good nutrition in America, and to promote American farm products at home and abroad. Depending on the presidential administration in power, one or the other mandate predominates. If, as I think is likely, Obama really doesn’t feel he has a dog in this race, the lobbyists influence the decisions, hands down. And we get fat kids.

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