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Is Pizza Sauce a Vegetable? Amy Klobuchar Has Changed Her Answer on School Lunch Controversy

By Evie Blad — April 23, 2019 2 min read
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Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of a busload of Democrats running for president, has reiterated her change of heart on a controversial issue: Pizza.

During a town hall with several candidates broadcast by CNN on Monday, she said she regretted calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to rethink school-lunch rule changes that would make it more difficult for items like pizza sauces and salsas to be considered vegetables.

It’s the classic pizza flip-flop. Tale as old as time.

In 2011, Klobuchar wrote to then U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack questioning the changes which were made to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. That was the law championed by then-first lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity by making federally subsidized school meals healthier, lower in sodium and sugar, and richer in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Among the rules: The condensed tomato paste on popular items like pizza would be measured in its condensed form. For the nutrition guidelines’ purposes, condensed tomato sauce could no longer represent the pre-condensed amount of tomatoes required to make it, which would have been enough to count as a full serving of vegetables.

“By changing the crediting, many tomato-based sauces and salsa-type applications would no longer be factored into the weekly requirements for vegetables,” Klobuchar, a member of the agriculture committee, wrote to Vilsack. “I believe we must focus on increasing fruits and vegetables rather than decreasing specific foods that provide an important source of essential nutrients.”

Her letter also urged caution on rule changes that were criticized by school nutrition groups and other lawmakers, like a schedule of gradually more restrictive sodium requirements. Those requirements have since been eased by the Trump administration.

Some criticized Klobuchar’s position, saying she was motivated by support from Minnesota-based frozen food giant Schwan’s.

In 2014, Klobuchar told the New York Times she regretted her previous pizza position and that she “did not want the rule changed legislatively.”

“I would not send a letter like this again or take this position again,” she told the Times, seeking to settle the issue.

But now that Klobuchar is running for president, no stone—or tomato-paste petition—will be left unturned.

A Harvard student at the CNN town hall asked her about the 2011 letter.

“Amid the obesity interest that has plagued this country for decades, to what extent do you believe that the financial interests of corporations in your home state should outweigh the health of America’s next generation?” he asked.

In response, Klobuchar cited her comments to the Times.

“We were in the middle of the downturn and it was a little more complex, I would say, complex in terms of the language, but it’s a fair criticism,” she told the student. “And so I said I regretted sending that letter. It was about trying to keep a company afloat in a really small town that employed a bunch of people. But I think that nutrition is paramount for this country, and that’s why way before I was running for president, I said that was a mistake.”

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