The 'Pizza Is A Vegetable' Meme Explained

Only in the United States might people believe that pizza is a vegetable and have Congress make it official. (What good is government if they can't help us pretend that a gooey slice of cheese and pepperoni pizza is healthy, anyway?) Over the past decade, the ridiculous "pizza is a vegetable" statement has become a widely-circulated meme, though you might not know its origins that date back to 2011.

At the time, the Obama administration attempted to overhaul the nation's public school lunch programs by requiring more fruits and vegetables to be added to cafeteria menus in an effort to fight childhood obesity, according to The New York Times. The Republican Congress at the time apparently didn't like the idea of taking away kids' pizza opportunities (and heard the complaints of food companies that were concerned about higher costs of production required for healthier foods), so Congress blocked that bill right quick.

The Washington Post further explains that the bill to make lunches healthier would have required the two tablespoons of tomato paste that was being used on pizza to increase to a half-cup in order to be considered a serving of vegetables. The food companies that supply school cafeterias complained costs would go up and kids wouldn't want to eat a slice of tomato paste with some cheese. And some lawmakers, more concerned with bottom lines than waistlines, moved quickly to call a slice of pizza a serving of vegetables and thus sent the internet into overdrive.

How 'pizza is a vegetable' became a popular meme

At one time or another, we've all probably used the excuse that pizza meets all the food groups to rationalize eating it as much as we do. After all, a good pizza pie gives you some bread, dairy, protein, and, thanks to Congress, vegetables.

According to Know Your Meme, after Congress passed a spending bill that barred changes to the current school lunch systems and equivocally made pizza part of a healthy diet, online searches for "pizza is a vegetable" skyrocketed. As the site notes, on November 16, 2011, a Reddit thread popped up called, "Congress declares pizza a vegetable," and it made it to the front page of the forum in no time. The internet soon followed with hilarious images of pizza plants and spot-on comparisons of the shape of pizza to the food pyramid. Simply searching "pizza is a vegetable" even today yields results that cover everything from Facebook groups dedicated to the topic to more memes that call out specific legislators who aided in the reclassification of pizza in schools.

Not everyone was amused, though, including Margo Wootan from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who told NPR that, "It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than in protecting children's health." Leave it to the scientists to crash the pizza party with nutritional facts when the kids are just trying to eat their vegetables!