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How The Processed Food Lobby Is Conspiring To Push Canned Fruit And Veggies Into Healthy School Lunches

A federal law to bring fresh fruits and vegetables into some of America’s poorest schools might seem like a straightforward health initiative, but as with anything in Washington, politicians and special interest groups have found plenty of reasons to fight over — and attempt to ruin — what has been largely characterized as a successful program.

Earlier this month, a bill was introduced that, ironically, wants to alter the “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program” to include frozen, canned, dried, and pureed fruits and vegetables. The program expanded from a 4-state pilot in 2002 to all 50 states in 2008, and multiple studies have lauded its success in boosting fruit and vegetable consumption among kids who, prior to the program, had never seen a pear with a stem on it or a grape that wasn’t halved and swimming in a plastic cup of mystery juice.

Naturally, this prompted one lobbyist who works on behalf of companies like Del Monte Foods and Campbell Soup Co. to ask Politico, “Why should Washington tell schools what to do?” A lobbyist on the other side argued, “Kids already have access to plenty of processed, canned, frozen fruits, and vegetables in school meals.” While tomatoes demanded to know, “Which side of this argument are we on, exactly?”

At stake isn’t just $177 million in government spending, but the industry’s image as well: Non-fresh fruit and veggie producers don’t want to be seen as offering inferior products. Of course, the slippery slope argument asks, if you let in non-fresh fruits and veggies, where does the line get drawn? Is pumpkin spice a vegetable? In that case, let’s just teach kids at Starbucks and combine the morning coffee run and school carpool into one simple errand. You know Starbucks is definitely closer to your house.