Ketchup is a Vegetable & Other School Lunch Oddities

Book Discussion

Every now and then I'll happen upon a comment about ketchup being a vegetable. It's usually sarcastic and I've never really known the origins to the phrase. I can thank Amy Kalafa's Lunch Wars for clearing it up for me. It seems that in the 1980s there was a directive put forth by the government that looked at reclassifying ketchup (and relish!) as a vegetable. This would have allowed schools to cut out a serving of actual vegetables from school lunches. Scary, isn't it?

Thankfully, it didn't happen. I have no problem with ketchup. I think it's a over-used condiment and I'm not sure why we need new ketchup packets, but I use it. I probably even sometimes over-use it. (I also may have a bit of a love affair with steak sauce from time to time.) But I would never think of equating ketchup with a tomato.

ketchup tater tots

Image Credit: Mr T in DC

Ketchup did not get reclassified as a vegetable but that's not to say that similar and, in my opinion, odd things continue to happen -- such as the alleged proposal to ban the potato from school breakfasts and lunches. I will freely confess that I love the potato and think it's gotten a bad rap over the last few years. I think banning potatoes is silly because I think banning any vegetable is silly but I also don't think that kids need to have potatoes with every meal. There's a thing called balance, right?

I think what disturbs me about banning potatoes and declaring ketchup a vegetable is that it feels like we're forgetting what "food" means. It reminded me of an essay I read a few years ago from Michael Pollan. In 2007 her wrote an article in the New York Time about our society's obsession with "nutritionism."

"It was in the 1980s that food began disappearing from the American supermarket, gradually to be replaced by “nutrients,” which are not the same thing. Where once the familiar names of recognizable comestibles -- things like eggs or breakfast cereal or cookies -- claimed pride of place on the brightly colored packages crowding the aisles, now new terms like “fiber” and “cholesterol” and “saturated fat” rose to large-type prominence. More important than mere foods, the presence or absence of these invisible substances was now generally believed to confer health benefits on their eaters. Foods by comparison were coarse, old-fashioned and decidedly unscientific things -- who could say what was in them, really?"

I feel incredibly lucky that I grew up knowing food. We had a garden. My family were fishermen. I helped my grandparents make pickles and jams. I went to school with farmer's children. Yes, there were cans of processed food in our cupboard but the dinner that went on our plates most nights was a protein, a starch and a vegetable. We peeled and chopped and cooked. Dinner rarely involved opening a can or a box of anything. And yes, there are still processed foods in my house, including ketchup, but most nights dinner involves me chopping, peeling and cooking things.

There are days when I wonder if, as a society, we've lost our way when it comes to what "food" means. What do you think -- are we so focused on "nutrition" that we forget about "food?"

BlogHer Book Club Host Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.


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