Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Eat More Cheese

Guess what? Eating cheese isn't just a mindblowing sensual pleasure, it's also a patriotic duty. God bless America!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending millions of tax dollars to help companies like Domino's Pizza infuse their products with ever-increasing amounts of cheese, according to a new investigative report by Michael Moss of the New York Times.

Last year, Domino's Pizza's profits were in the tank. So, the USDA-sponsored corporation Dairy Management was dispatched to help Domino's develop pizzas with 40% more cheese. DM spent $12 million dollars to market this new "Legends" line. The legendary Wisconsin pie features an astonishing eight kinds of cheese, six on top and two more in the crust.

So, why is Uncle Sam so keen on cheese? If you answered: "So we can develop strong teeth and healthy bones to better fight wars of conquest," you'd be wrong. Good guess, though.

Actually, this is a gimme for Big Dairy by way of fast food. Thanks to bovine growth hormone, high tech lighting, and other technical "advances," U.S. dairy farmers produce two thirds more milk than Americans want to drink. To add insult to injury, most consumers want low fat milk instead of whole. This leaves the dairy industry with a lot of extra milk fat, which is perfect for making cheese. You may be asking: "Couldn't they just make less milk?" Shut up, that's pinko talk.

For your information, Americans like cheese. A lot. Though, no admittedly, not so much that the Invisible Hand of the Market would serve up piping hot slices of Domino's Wisconsin Legend. For that, you need corporate welfare. Brings a whole new meaning to the term "government cheese" doesn't it? 

Here's where Dairy Management comes in. Funded by a levy on dairy producers and USDA grants, DM exists exhort and cajole Americans into doing our bit by scarfing up the national milk fat surplus. Think of the American people as 300,000,000 oil-eating bacteria patriotically munching our way to victory. 

One of the easiest strategies to boost sales is to convince fast food companies to spike their products with extra cheese. DM is all over this thing, like cheddar, pepper jack, and mozzarella on a Taco Bell quesadilla:

In 2007, the department highlighted Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza, Wendy’s “dual Double Melt sandwich concept,” and Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. “Both featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and a cheesy sauce,” the department said.

DM reported that its efforts boosted cheese sales by 30 million pounds that year.

That's small curds compared to the "Summer of Cheese," a joint effort by DM and Pizza Hut that shifted 100 million extra pounds of cheese from the stockpiles to the American consumer in 2002.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, or nearly three times the rate in 1970. In addition to being rich in protein and calcium, cheese is high in saturated fat, salt, and calories. Cheese can be part of a healthy diet, just not in unlimited quantities.

DM's open-ended mandate to drive up cheese consumption to match supply is a very unhealthy public policy. As Michael Moss notes in the story, mindless cheese boosterism is in direct conflict with high profile initiatives by the White House and the USDA to combat obesity.

[Photo credit: Bill Barber, Creative Commons; Hat tip to my friend Eric Jaffa for sending me this remarkable story.]

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