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Even before pizza, ketchup was almost a vegetable

Before the 'Pizza as a vegetable' debacle made national headlines and inspired legislation from District 2's House Representative Jared Polis, there was the original school lunch controversy: the battle over ketchup.

Yes, that bright red, sugar-packed fast-food friend was indeed classified as a vegetable under regulations proposed by President Ronald Reagan's Agriculture Department in 1981. To save money and help balance the budget, these regulations would have reduced portion sizes, allowed sources of protein like soy or cottage cheese, and certified that condiments like pickle relish or ketchup would count as servings of vegetables--in conjunction with french fries or hamburgers, of course.

Predictably, the effort to feed kids less food and fewer vegetables led to an outcry from nutrition advocates and Democrats. Soon after word on the new regulations broke, Democrats staged a photo-op where they dined on anemic hamburgers, six french fries each, and, you guessed it, ketchup.

Reagan quickly backed down on the school lunch rules, initially suggesting that their proposal in the Agriculture department was the result of "bureaucratic sabotage".

Fourteen years later, Democrats would again wield ketchup in front of the cameras in an attempt to tie a GOP measure to cut the federal school lunch program to Reagan's condiment debacle. Hoisting a bottle of Heinz's finest, Minority Leader Richard Gephardt declared that the Republican majority would "even want to get rid of ketchup."

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In 1998, the Clinton administration proposed another tomato-based condiment for vegetable status. But this time, it was salsa that would grace lunch trays across the country.

"The difference is ketchup-as-a-vegetable was a way of covering up cuts in these programs. There's no budget aspect to this. We're not doing this as part of budget-cutting," said the USDA's Ed Cooney. "This is a way to help local schools to improve the quality and acceptability of the food they serve."

Today, both ketchup and salsa are served in America's school lunches. The only question is, do you want pizza with that?

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