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Tomato paste rules…

School lunch debates now apparently hinge on the 30-year-old question: if tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable, what’s tomato paste?

The American Frozen Food Institute is quoted as objecting to new proposed government rules that a quarter-cup of tomato paste can no longer qualify as a serving of vegetable in public school cafeteria lunches. I’m shocked that it has up to now.

The organization’s spokesman actually tried to argue that putting enough tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable would swamp the pizza, which he called “a big part of school lunches”.

Well, yes. That’s one of the big contributing factors to the push for better nutrition guidelines. And in complaining so hard about the tomato paste rule, the spokesman effectively admitted that tomato paste isn’t incredibly nutritious in the quantities most people can consume. It may be vegetable in origin, or it may be “a fruit and not a vegetable” if you want to get prissy about it, but mostly, it’s just a condiment, like ketchup or mustard.

Anyone who’s managed to fool the public this far that the little smear of tomato sauce on a commercial pizza is a sufficient serving of vegetabalia for growing kids deserves every possible food-related and financial comeuppance.

And on the other hand…mustard. Hey. Wait a minute! Mustard is a Vegetable! (well, mustard leaves, anyway).

–  –  –  –  –

Actually, what all the hue and cry boil down to is money. The trade organizations for processed and fast food concessions to public schools stand to lose a lot of their profits if they have to provide nutrition along with the colored sawdust they sell as “pizza” and the greasy mush they sell as “french fries”.

They turn around and threaten the school districts with increased cost per meal, perhaps above what the Federal Government will pay per student.

The school districts panic and shake their heads, complaining that $2.79 government reimbursement per student per lunch isn’t enough as it is, and maybe the Federal Government should drag its heels even further on requiring low sodium meals and fewer potatoes and less tomato paste and more vegetables of worth.

–  –  –  –  –

Step on the brakes a second. $2.79 for lunch? Does that include labor and dishwashing? Or just the food?

If that’s just for the food, I have great news for the school districts. A peanut butter and fruit spread (disclaimer: doesn’t meet govt. standards for a full serving of fruit; this too is just a condiment) on whole wheat bread, with carrots and an apple, maybe if we’re feeling fancy some raw cabbage or green beans or cauliflower, comes to significantly less than $2.79 per serving.

And that’s retail with unpaid labor (mine), and it takes less than 5 minutes to prepare in the morning, even including all the standard parental yelling, “Let’s go, we’re gonna be late, it’s already 5 after, where are your socks?!” Believe me, if I can manage it before benefit of coffee, so can the schools.

Surely the school district bursars can figure out how to drive a harder bargain from their suppliers with so much at stake? Surely lunch should be a simpler thing to prepare?

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