If there was ever any doubt that Congress is a bunch of corrupt morons, last week’s vote on school-lunch reform should clear that up once and for all. Legislators voted to block a long-overdue overhaul of the nation’s school-lunch program proposed by the U.S. Agriculture Department and handed a victory to makers of frozen pizza, French fries and tomato paste.

Among other things, Congress agreed with the food industry that tomato paste is really a nutritious vegetable and that as little as a quarter-cup on a limp piece of greasy pizza counts as a vegetable.

This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that we’re facing an epidemic of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Better-off kids can boycott the low-grade garbage the feds unload on schools and pack more nutritious food to school, but children who depend on free or reduced lunches will continue to be forced to eat foods that Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Del Monte and other corporations want them to. The strategy is if these companies can hook kids early on bad food it will be tough the break them of their habits as adults. Or at least until they die prematurely from diet-related illness. 

As proposed, the changes would have cost $6.8 billion over the next five years and increased the cost of a school lunch by 14 cents. For a little perspective, the United States spends $9.7 billion each month on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The vote has to be seen as a defeat for Michelle Obama, whose “Let’s Move” campaign was aimed at ending the epidemic of childhood obesity. Her plan sounded nice, but without a hammer to get corporations to do the right thing and stop hawking junk to kids not much was going to change.

Here in Silicon Valley, school districts have been trying their best to muddle through with inadequate funding and out-of-touch politicians. In spite of the fact that it outsources its food service program to Sodexo, an institutional food-service company, Sunnyvale School District child nutrition consultant Gail Burke said the district has made efforts to improve the school lunches by cutting back on things like pizza, potatoes and rice and offer more fresh fruit and vegetables.

She was of course disappointed with Congress’ decision last week. “Don’t they take into consideration the kids?” she asked.

Obviously, they don’t.