The federal government, displaying even less sense than usual, has yielded to the French fry industry. Frozen French fries—sliced, fried in oil, and then packaged—are now approved as "fresh vegetables" by the US Department of Agriculture.
The French fry industry has been petitioning the USDA for years to get this approval. They say that their product is similar to cucumbers that have a wax coating. They argue that they use 100 percent vegetable oil, which is much healthier for consumers than plain wax.
Most consumers, of course, beg to differ. "You must be joking," said Annie, 50. "How can you consider a product that's deep-fried in oil to be a fresh vegetable? Even if I steamed broccoli, I could no longer call it fresh broccoli—it's cooked! I wish I were a lobbyist, so my congressman would help me. Unfortunately, I'm only a tax-paying citizen.
The USDA defends its decision, saying that potatoes undeniably are vegetables. Although French fries are fried in oil, they are still potatoes. If you let them sit on your countertop for a couple of weeks, a USDA spokesman said, the fries will rot just like all other fresh vegetables.
Consumer advocates say the USDA has totally lost touch with the consumers. "They'd probably declare that eggshells are nutritious if a lobbyist asked them to," said one advocate.