U.S. government simultaneously pushing and warning against increased cheese consumption


According to a report in today's New York Times, a US Dept. of Agriculture division tasked with increasing dairy product sales found new ways to promote increased cheese consumption at the same time our government was warning Americans about health risks associated with the increased consumption of cheese.

Bonus: a bonafide gubmint documint referencing the menace of "cheese snacking fanatics.

(via BB Submitterator, thanks millrick; photo submitted to the Boing Boing Flickr pool by arooj)


  1. My grandfather was overweight for much of his life, and his mother was (he said) always on him about getting thinner. But when he ate at her house, which was often, she chivvied him to eat more. “Ma,” he said, “I thought you wanted me to lose weight?” “Not in my house you diet,” was her reply.

    This report sounds strangely familiar as a result.

  2. The US government must immediately form and fund a task force to advocate for neutrality in government cheese policy.

    1. neutrality in government cheese policy.

      Isn’t that one of the central tenets of the Swiss government? ;)

  3. I never imagined that there was such a large cheese conspiracy being carried out. Their tactics are surprisingly devious.

  4. Nutrition in the US is such a disaster. Why is the USDA tasked with creating the food pyramid as a nutritional guide when it also is working with special interests to sell more of their products?

    The latest incarnation is MyPyramid.gov which is inscrutable. They still lump together legumes, eggs, fish, poultry and red meat. They just turned the pyramid on its side, making it less understandable.

    The Harvard School of Public Health tries to do a better job with their pyramid: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/

  5. Maybe we should look to the past, to a time before the “obesity epidemic”. How about we throw out the food pyramid and check the science behind it? How about looking, for once, at the big elephant made of wheat and corn in the room? How about we start eating real food again and not boxed junk from factories?

    I’ve done this and lost roughly 60lb. so far. I’m much healthier than I ever was before. There’s nothing wrong with cheese. The human body needs fat, especially saturated fat, to survive and grow.

    1. Read the China Study. it’s Fascinating!
      From experience the best advice for everything is your own independent research coupled together with common sense and reason.
      With the internet as your research tool, you can discover the truth about all diets and find one that best suite you and your goals.
      Think and make you own mind up, is the best advice.

  6. Has the saying “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” ever been more fitting? I submit that it has not.

  7. Thanks BoingBoing. I wanted a bedtime snack, and didn’t know what to make. Now I’m having a grilled cheese sandwich.

  8. I’m waiting for the cheese version of the Double Down sandwich: A piece of cheese, with two different kinds of cheese and the Colonel’s “secret” cheese, pinched in between two pieces of cheese.

  9. It’s all about cost and convenience. For a struggling family, they can’t beat the cost per calorie of a $1 double cheeseburger from BK or McD.

    We don’t have a recent tradition of what constitutes a good meal because of the emphasis on convenience and products having a long shelf life. Blame the microwave oven and Sandra Lee.

    Roger Ebert has many good suggestions about using a rice cooker to prepare meals conveniently. Check out his book about it.

    I don’t think it ever works to give negative advice about food choices. Once you hear “don’t eat french fries,” the message goes right to the reptilian part of your brain, and the craving starts.

  10. Cheese is great. But seriously, you eat a couple ounces of it, not a half pound. Part of the problem is that the cheese that gets promoted is bland and gets most of its flavor simply from being fatty. Government and industry aren’t promoting cheese so much as they’re promoting cheese-as-high-fat-ingredient-in-fast-food.

    Step away from the Velveeta burger and have some Valdeón with a crisp Asian pear.

    1. Antinous / Moderator “Cheese is great. But seriously, you eat a couple ounces of it, not a half pound.”
      *Pbbt!* Maybe over there in Europe! This is America! Here, we do things because we can not because we should!

      “Step away from the Velveeta burger and have some Valdeón with a crisp Asian pear.”
      Well, la dee dah! “Lookit me! I got me some ‘Valdeon’ and a foreign pear!” Here in America, cheese comes in a spray can!

      1. I thought that comment about “Valdeón with a crisp Asian pear” was a little pretentious myself (for crackers or fruit I love Jarlsberg personally rather than soft cheeses like Valdeón), but snark aside, there *is* a huge difference between how cheese is consumed in the US vs. the rest of the world, and the US version is what causes the problems with cheese that the government warns about.

        It’s therefore not really a contradiction for the government to both promote cheese and warn against it. We’re just talking about two different general categories of cheese, and different ways of consuming it.

        1. Is it pretentious to like good food? I guess Sarah Palin has already won her war for America’s cultural soul.

          1. Well, when it averages $16.25 a pound, and is not available in the average grocery store….yeah, a bit. penguinchris does a better job of getting to the heart of the matter, which is focusing on flavor and quality rather than calories and the immediate animal satisfaction of ingesting fat. The former can be accomplished even with relatively common* simple foods.

            *though not ubiquitously available; try finding a decent apple, much less an Asian pear, in the convenience stores that substitute for grocery stores in large sections of cities like Detroit.

          2. It’s half that price at Trader Joe’s and both those items are available at any major grocery store chain in reasonably urban parts of California. If you want great food at the grocery stores, it helps to live in a state with a big Asian population.

          3. We’ve been shopping at Food Lion and Costco a lot recently, due to our various financial constraints. This past weekend we decided to do some grocery tourism, so we went to the Trader Joe’s in Chapel Hill.

            It’s the craziest damn thing. The customers in there were all normal-sized humans. Totally unlike the supersized ones at Food Lion and Costco.

            The US dietary problems are class problems. The classes aren’t defined by annual income, but there is strong correlation.

    2. From Domino’s Web site: Wisconsin 6 Cheese Pizza
      Whole: Robust Inspired Tomato Sauce, Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Feta Cheese, Shredded Parmesan Asiago, Shredded Provolone Cheese

      I have to order this now.

  11. Mice and humans both apparently live longer the less they consume. Overall message: short of overt anorexia, less is better. Also, avoiding other risks, no driving or walking on city streets, or risky contact with other people.

    Pick one: life or risk.

  12. What about the bizarre situation where High-Fructose Corn Syrup is predominant in U.S. foods thanks to corn farming subsidies, yet local governments (like in NY) are going out of their way to fund against “Sugary drinks.”

    Seems like the net result of this people who make slogans that go on posters are the big winners. Our taxes pay their salaries on both sides!

  13. Kosmoid@18: The “Wisconsin 6 Cheese pizza” seems to only have five kinds of cheese. Unless they’re counting tomato sauce as cheese. Which, it’s Domino’s, so maybe they are.

    1. The increase in recommended dairy was done by the first HHS Secretary under G.W. Bush, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson. This was a pretty straightforward case of a cabinet official bringing home the bacon (or other farm products) back to his home state. The change was not based on any sort of information regarding dietary guidelines as far as I can tell.

      Having grown up in WI, I can tell you that if any food item uses “Wisconsin” in its description, it is not healthy for you.

  14. The Gov’t doesn’t want us to eat real foods, like real cheese made from raw milk (like my wife is making this very day!) They are busting small dairy farmers who sell raw milk, and I mean BUSTING them!

    But, they DO want us to support their subsidized programs like milk, corn, soy, etc. (’cause that’s all BIG biz, i.e, AGRI-BIZ)

    And, they don’t really care if we eat vegetables or fruit – those aren’t subsidized at all, so the ones from Mexico, Guatemala, etc, are so much cheaper (and the ‘how it’s grown’ oversight is zilch!)

    Fascism rules, sadly: the BIG biz folks get the money and protection from the gov’t, and the small folks get nada, or they get busted.

    Am I cynical? Darn tootin!

    1. I’m thinking the raw milk busting has more to do with all the people who die after drinking raw milk. Just a thought.

      1. Raw milk is more nutritional and much more tasty than processed and perfectly safe as long as it is from healthy cows and under sanitary conditions. The laws regarding processing of milk were put in place because of the horridly unsanitary urban dairies of 100+ years ago. It’s kind of a “duh” moment when you consider that humans have been drinking raw milk for thousands of years with few issues.

        I grew up on a small farm and rather speak from some personal experience. If you think processed milk is bad, try buying a decent pint of cream in a grocery store. NOTHING beats real whipped cream!

      2. Where I live (in the French-Swiss border by Geneva) drinking raw milk is pretty standard. No deaths or major illness outbreaks come from it AFAIK. Actually there are local dairy coops where farmers set up vending machines to sell raw milk directly to the public, and it’s awesome. You know all the profit goes directly to the producers, and the taste is orders of magnitude better.
        Also the French do most of their cheese from unpasteurized milk, and that shows in the taste and texture. The versions you see in the US (even at places like Trader Joe’s, which have a selection of Brie and Camembert) are the export, pasteurized version (because the FDA wouldn’t allow it in the market otherwise).
        I lived in California for a few years and there I got food poisoning for the first time ever. Almost every year. There are frequent scares about lettuce, eggs, meat… I just don’t see it here.

  15. Why do people expect this government to be consistent in its message? For years they’ve spent money trying to get us to stop smoking even as they subsidize tobacco plantations. Government isn’t some monolithic entity, it’s just a bunch of people doing some kind of job in response to its constituency.

    Thing is, there’s always more than one constituency to satisfy. The dairy lobby is huge, so they do the stuff that they want… and voters are huge and getting more so… so they give us a nod as well.

    Expect the government to be consistent, you’re expecting them to say no to someone with campaign money to spend.

  16. Well it could be worse….
    like the Irish government whose latest great idea is to spend a big hunk of its cash on buying surplus european cheese and handing it out to every citizen.

    Not guinness. Cheese.

  17. I just had a bruchetta with gorganzola and honey with walnuts.

    Salty and sweet and PACKED with delicious and complex flavors on two small slices of bread. All with maybe a single ounce of cheese, about the same amount of honey and walnuts.

    It’s like a meal and a desert all in one. Try it. Blue cheeses pack TONS of flavor into tiny little bits. A little goes a long way.

  18. My mother went to the US some time ago and she noticed that everywhere she went, the eateries of all kinds tended to “SuperSize” the portions of anything on the menu.

    She, correctly I think, put this down to the horrendous Famine the US experienced during the Great Depression, and you need to understand that, historically, this was a true Famine similar to the Soviet Famines of the same times.

    The Norman Rockwell type of feast the average American is supposed to be presented with had become institutionalized, with prohibitive tariffs on imported agricultural goods – hence the constant glut and cheapness of foodstuffs

    BTW, I remember being told that my Aunt Tessie had been prescribed a bottle of Guinness (by the doctor) to drink every day during the 1940’s for a week..

  19. The food is not inherently ‘bad’, or ‘evil’, or even unhealthy. What makes it a health hazard is that it is not being burned by your body.
    Blaming the substance itself is an easy trap to fall in to, when, ultimately, it comes down to the lifestyle choices you make yourself.
    The upshot is that you are always in control.

  20. Compressed calories and protein like found in meat, cheese, and processed foods are expensive. In my case when I had a major health issue it involved moving to a less expensive place farther away from school and loosing my car, it also often meant no bus fare meaning that I really appreciated my investment in a great touring bike. More importantly we learned how to live off of the cheapest foods in the bulk bins and in season veggies. We made great Indian food even when the power was turned off using a mountaineering kerosene stove, a fry pan, and a pressure cooker.
    The cravings for ‘regular’ foods like meat and cheese would still hit me although spicing somehow makes the food feel more filling, just think how much potato lentil curry, chipotle, and rice a 100kg person needs when bicycle commuting 160km a week with daily elevation changes of over 500m.

    The sad thing is once people have even a little money for the junk calories they also have gas money and heated homes. State food stamps should pay a credit bonus for taking a cooking class or give a percentage bonus for purchasing inexpensive healthy foods over processed foods. It is due to lack of education and the microwave quick convenience of processed foods that high calorie food is considered the food of the poor.

  21. It’s a good thing the government is finally paying a little attention to this growing problem.

    Sure, it starts innocently with a bit of cheese, but before you know it people are wearing prosthetic tails, squeaking and attending mouse parties. It’s important to nip this in the bud, if you wait till everyone is watching blue cheese movies it’ll be too late.

  22. Most of the “cheese” I´ve seen in the U.S. I could not, in all honesty, call anything but an abomination. The better stuff was crazy expensive. Same in Canada. I don´t think I will want to eat another piece of cheddar for the rest of my life.
    The relative low cost for very good cheese in Europe may have to do with excessive subsidization of dairy farmers.

  23. I submit that these is no cheese in America, just homogenised protein-rich industrial grade milk-fat extract. You’ll know when you eat real cheese, because it actually tastes of something.

    Almost forgot,
    Same goes for what Americans call chocolate

    1. Apparently, you have never been to Wisconsin. We have tons of awesome small dairies that put out some AWESOME artisan (and even just regular) cheeses. It’s awesome, and I get to live here! Come visit sometime. :)

  24. Personally, I’m waiting for all the 0-calorie totally artificial food to come out. We’ve already got fake sugar and fake fat, we just need fake protein and fake starch (and maybe fake other stuff I can’t think of at the moment.)

    Then I can eat 3 normal meals a day and pig out on artificial junk food the rest of the time. Sure we’d be trading an obesity epidemic for an anorexia one, but that’s probably better overall.

  25. It’s not that I like most American made cheeses, although there are a surprising number of really good small-scale producers these days, or that I think the government should be telling us what to eat, but I can see how the various parts of our administration could be doing different things that sometimes look to be at odds. On one hand, the USDA has been tasked with helping the population have a clue about what a “healthy” diet looks like and on the other hand they are asked to help producers promote their products. People seem to forget that it isn’t government telling us “eat more cheese!”, it’s the government telling cheese producers how to market more cheese. Pizza, even overloaded 6-cheese crappy Domino’s pizza, is perfectly ok if you have a slice or two once in a while. Eat an entire pizza for dinner every day and you’ll be in trouble. Make a habit of eating foods overloaded with fat and sodium and you’ll be in trouble even if those foods are all vegetables and legumes. Refried beans, flavored with lard and bacon, are no better for you than a burger.

  26. Trying to find a good sharp cheddar is an exercise in futility, but around here even discount grocery stores (except for the really dodgy ones) have chevre, smoked gouda and so on. And I live in the Midwest.

    Life is too short to eat bad cheese.

  27. I read the article, and was promptly disappointed by poor writing. Luckily the content was engaging enough to continue on – if not fairly obvious to begin with. Did he really need to elaborate to an elementary school level? Dominoes pizza has tons of cheese. I know that means it’s loaded with various fats and sodium, but you elaborate by saying it’s full of saturated fats. Fine, but it crosses the line with “which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories”.

    I found the “add dairy to your healthy diet to loose more weight” campaign being supported by these guys really interesting.

  28. FTFA:
    On Oct. 13, Domino’s announced the latest in its Legends line of cheesier pizza, which Dairy Management is promoting with the $12 million marketing effort.

    As someone who has owned a small restaurant whose direct competition was Dominoes I take exception to the tax dollars my business raised being spent to market my competitor.

    And also, WTF? $600K to market cheese?

    Dairy Management’s longtime chief executive, Thomas P. Gallagher, received $633,475 in compensation in 2008, with first-class travel privileges, according to federal tax filings. Annual compensation for two other officials top $300,000 each.

  29. For those of you who read international news, you might have noticed that there is an obesity epidemic in Mexico right now, as well as the UK. Both of these obesity epidemics are related to increased consumption of American-style processed products.

    I’ve been travelling back and forth between the US and UK since 2001, and even if I only spend a week over here and watch my diet, I gain 15 lbs. before I come back to the UK, where I promptly lose it. If I’m there for longer, I gain more!

    Something that Oprah commented on in O magazine– if you eat vitamin and nutrient rich foods, you don’t stay hungry. We have to keep eating because we’re not getting the nutrition and vitamins we need. This is why we keep eating and eating American food even after we should be feeling full.

    I don’t know what it will take to convince the US government that US agribusiness is fattening up the population faster than the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Empty calories without nutritional or vitamin content make up the bulk of foods sold in grocery stores and all but the most expensive restaurants.

    This all has a huge impact on our lives, energy levels, brain function, and self esteem. And it’s even worse for children.

    They blame us for not having self-control, but how hard is it even to find a loaf of bread or a can of soup which doesn’t have sugar or corn syrup in it? My ex-wife couldn’t eat sugar, and you could imagine the grief that we went through to find anything she could actually eat in America!

  30. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with our being the only species that drinks the mother’s milk of another species!

    Besides, the quality of milk (and therefore cheese) is getting better. In 2009 there were less pus cells in milk, on average, than in 2008!!


    That should be encouraging news. Be even better if we drank pig or chimpanzee mother’s milk, which is closer in nutritional profile to human milk than to a cow’s.

    FYI, Mark

    1. pus cells are mostly protein, right?

      I like your suggestion, but I think adult humans have different nutritional needs than babies. besides, pigs and chimps dont produce as much milk as grass eaters, and are more expensive to raise. trust me, we are better off feeding on vegetarian animals than omnivores like pigs and chimps. next you’ll be telling us we should eat humans.

  31. Good cheese might seem expensive until you reconsider how you measure value. I don’t think of it in terms of mass or volume, but flavor, enjoyment, and calories. Yes, I think calories, especially fat, from a healthy animal are great fuel for my body. By this scheme, I don’t mind paying more for a gallon of whole milk than for a gallon of skim milk, since skim milk is denatured, decalorized, adulterated crap. Don’t even get me started on soy juice and other various seed extracts that have their flavors covered with chemicals and then get marketed as “milk”. A good fatty salami or prosciutto delivers more health and nutrition value per dollar than a McDonalds burger, especially when you consider the subsidies that go into the latter.

  32. Re: Canada and Cheese
    Cheese is the #1 item stolen from Canadian grocery stores.
    Canadians are called “Cheeseheads” in Washington state as they are always buying massive amounts to take over the border.
    A friend and I managed to have the entire checkout staff in Safeway laugh out loud as we checked each of our 10 pounds of cheese through at the same time in Blaine. We added a couple of cases of cheap Merican beer and were pegged perfectly.
    Cheese and Dairy product prices are kept artificially high in Canada through high tariff walls, in order to subsidize the dairy farmers (mainly in Quebec). Typically, it is about 3 times the price as the states.
    Thieves target high end cheese:
    Cheese :The New “White Gold” in Canada
    Oh..and cheese does go on sale from time to time, where I live, it can be marked down up to 30%, usually one day before the “best before” end date on the package.

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