It's not often you see the Freedom of Information Act invoked in a food story. But given the astonishing results of Michael Moss' quest to report for The New York Times about a little known government program called Cheese Management, perhaps food reporters should consider invoking it more often. Moss managed to uncover what may be one of the only bi-partisan initiatives thriving on Capital HIll--a concerted effort to sell more cheese to Americans, which involves encouraging people to consume more cheese, and as a result more unhealthy saturated fat.
In Moss's story we learn that the Department of Agriculture's cheese marketing program was started under Bill Clinton to promote the sale of dairy products to an increasingly fat-phobic public, and has ballooned over time into a cheese pushing machine. A single program initiated in 2007 (under George Bush) oversaw the creation of a double cheesy sandwich at Wendy's that resulted in an additional 30 million pounds of cheese sold--enough to create a small obesity epidemic of its own.
Cheese Management (did Monty Python name this department?) has been involved in controversy over some of its weight loss claims about cheese (which routinely packs a saturated fat content close to steak--and in the case of some varieties such as brie and "triple creme" can be up to 80% fat.) But it would seem the department under President Obama is continuing business as usual. Last month, a new initiative, which the board spent $12 million dollars to help create and promote, was announced by Domino's. The company will be selling a Legends line of cheesier pizza, which delivers more than 3/4 of the daily recommended maximum saturated fat intake in just 1/4 of a medium pizza.
"More cheese on pizza equals more cheese sales,” Mr. Gallagher, the Dairy Management chief executive, wrote in a guest column in a trade publication last year. “In fact, if every pizza included one more ounce of cheese, we would sell an additional 250 million pounds of cheese annually.”
As far as government initiatives go this one could be considered a home run. Americans now consume triple the amount of cheese they did in 1978. But where Mr. Gallagher and his department see success, we just see cellulite and clogged arteries.