I just heard about the recent “cheese expose” that the NY Times did, while at an organic farmer conference in Maine this weekend (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/us/07fat.html?_r=1&hp).
I didn’t really think about it until on the drive home late Sunday, when we were left with no other late-night food options but a Pizza Hut on the Maine-New Brunswick border. I told my driving companion it was the first time I’d been in one since high school (and even then, I always found it greasy and unappealing).
But what shocked me was the menu: every single item was based on white flour and cheese. There wasn’t a soup, bruschetta, or even a healthy pizza option (ie. whole wheat crust). All the appetizers were cheese/bread options. To its credit, there was a salad bar, which we opted for, since it was pristine — not one other patron opted for it in the whole restaurant!
Oh, the other interesting menu option, was the soft drinks. They were promoting “flavour shots” to be added to pop, so extra sugar and artificial colour to your already sweet/artificial colour drink. Yummy!
Today, I came across the cheese expose and just thought, ‘This is what’s wrong with our food system’ — we all know what the problems are, but money is on the wrong side of the equation:
Government (US) has been on a public campaign to improve the way Americans eat (ie. Michelle Obama’s organic garden at the White House). Meanwhile, you have the US government-run Dairy Management group working tirelessly to increase cheese consumption with no shame. Most recently, it teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign. They’ve done this with all the other major fast food restaurants too (including Pizza Hut).
“Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.”
“Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese. Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department.”
So, you might just think, “oh, this is just the US”, but that’s not the whole story.
If you’ve noticed all those fast-food restaurants offering over the top burgers with lots of cheese and cheese-sauce, that’s because Canada benefits from all that market development money. If they are developing a new menu item in the US, chances are we’ll find it in Canada soon.
“If you want to look at why people are fat today, it’s pretty hard to identify a contributor more significant than this meteoric rise in cheese consumption,” Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the physicians’ group.
Yep, that goes for us too, as McDonald’s Canada proudly states on its website: “Canadians love their cheese. In fact, McDonald’s served almost 9.6 million kgs of cheese last year (that’s 21 million pounds).”
Dairy is big money, and so is the dairy feed industry (corn and soy). Just follow the money and find the problems, it’s the solutions that are most complicated.