The Odd Connection Between US Presidents And Ketchup

According to the CDC, childhood obesity in the U.S. has affected approximately 14.7 million children and adolescents. This is a concern because obesity contributes to high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and breathing and joint problems.

The CDC advocates for children's diets to include plenty of fruits and vegetables to reduce the scale of obesity. Despite the apparent simplicity of this advice, the complicated world of politics has argued about what constitutes a vegetable — including whether tomato ketchup would fit the criteria.

The debate started in 1981, according to TFA, after Ronald Reagan's administration "cut federal school meals" during a National School Lunch Program review. This program was created in 1946 and was designed to provide cheap or free nutritional meals to children, notes USDA. The government under Reagan wanted to loosen rules over school meal portions, which critics argued meant that tomato ketchup could be classed as a vegetable. But what was the effect of the alteration, and what happened in the following decades?

Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama both faced ketchup crises

Ronald Reagan's changes to school meals involved budget cuts of 30%, resulting in a decision to find cheaper alternatives to the two portions of vegetables that children had to be served at lunchtime, reports Eater. Concentrates of fruits and vegetables, including tomato paste, were subsequently permitted to constitute actual fruits and vegetables, notes The Atlantic. The alterations were interpreted as allowing ketchup to be served as a vegetable, prompting fierce opposition — even from Senator John Heinz, the owner of Heinz. The plan was dropped just after a month.

Eater explains that in the 1990s, the USDA allowed frozen food producers to use tomato paste instead of tomatoes, which later created a problem for Barack Obama. In 2011, his administration aimed to repeal that rule as part of an effort to make school lunches healthier. However, Congress wanted to maintain it, which could have been interpreted to include pizza as a vegetable option due to the tomato paste used to make it. Obama agreed to drop his opposition to push through other reforms.

The vegetable conundrum seems never to resolve itself. In 2020, Independent reports that the government under Donald Trump judged that pasta made from vegetable flour would be a suitable vegetable component for school lunches.