If you live in the States, you may remember a few years ago when Congress blocked a proposal that aimed to make school lunches for children healthier. One of the provisions which stirred up considerable debate involved increasing the amount of tomato paste necessary to be considered a full serving of fruits and vegetables, but the proposal was eventually nixed, effectively maintaining that the tomato sauce used on pizza could count as a serving of vegetables.

After a Japanese news site broke the story fashionably late last month, Japanese people were incredulous to hear that from a legal standpoint, “pizza is a vegetable” in the U.S. Read on to learn more about the ongoing debate and some reactions of readers.

Let’s start off with a brief recap:

According to the American Heart Association, one-third of American children aged 5-17 are either overweight or obese. In an effort to fight childhood obesity, in January of 2011 the Obama administration outlined revisions to a bill calling for the introduction of healthier foods into school lunches. However, this proposed spending bill was eventually blocked in Congress by conservatives with ties to the frozen food industry in November of the same year. Outraged critics blasted the lawmakers who had rejected the revisions, ridiculing the fact that they had effectively determined “pizza to be a vegetable.”

The bill, which was passed, did not expressly state that pizza should be considered a vegetable per se, but maintained the current guidelines which said that 2 tablespoons of tomato paste was equivalent to a 1/2 cup serving of fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had been lobbying for changes to measure the serving size by volume, so that 1/2 cup of tomato paste would equal 1/2 cup of a serving. That amount of sauce would be too much for a pizza, and by rejecting the proposal, Congress had in effect allowed makers of school lunches to continue counting pizza sauce as a vegetable.

▼Pizza is healthy! Never mind the heaping portions of meat and cheese–it counts as your vegetable!


Fast forward to the present, where food informational site Mogumogu News finally broke the story to a Japanese audience late last month. The writer ended the piece by joking that people shouldn’t be making fun of the Americans, since they are after all eating “vegetables” whereas Japanese people are apt to wolf down carb-heavy dishes like gyūdon and ramen.

Japanese readers online were shocked to hear about the “pizza is a vegetable” analogy, and its continued role in American school lunches. Here are some of their reactions:

“So pizza is a vegetable, huh…”

“American food culture seems to be skewed a lot of the time, including this whole ‘pizza is a vegetable’ thing.”

“My diet lacks in vegetables, so starting tomorrow I’ll go load up on pizza.”

“Lately I haven’t been eating enough vegetables, so I’ll have some pizza!”

“The fact that pizza can count as a vegetable is really the result of a quarrel with the food industry. I thought it was characteristic of North American humor, but it’s really too bad that the issue had to be with money. “

The inclusion of pizza in American school lunches contrasts greatly with the menu items found in Japanese school lunches, known as kyūshoku, which all Japanese children are required to eat every day usually through the end of junior high school. Kyūshoku is specially designed to cater to the caloric and nutritional needs of growing children, and the menu items of a particular day are carefully selected to reflect a balance of all food groups. The lunches often make use of locally grown vegetables and serve as an opportunity to teach children about the processes behind food production. Japanese children are in charge of serving the dishes to each other each day at school.

▼A typical Japanese kyūshoku


While we’re not exactly surprised that Japanese people were shocked to hear about the “pizza is a vegetable” debate, we have to admit, it does make us feel a little less guilty about ordering a cheesy late-snack…

Sources: Yahoo! Japan, Mogumogu News, NBC News
Images: Yahoo! Japan, Papa John’s, RocketNews24 (kyūshoku)