The weekend news that caught my eye - and hits a little close to home: while the government wants to push a healthy lifestyle, they are also desperately pushing....cheese. A Department of Agriculture program called Dairy Management has been partnering with companies like Domino's Pizza to aggressively market cheese products.
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, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.Cheese is a major contributor to America's saturated fat intake. In fact, a group of physicians disputing the government's remarkable (and unsupported) claim a few years ago that an increase in cheese consumption could help with weight loss said that the delicious treat is likely the biggest culprit in the obesity epidemic.
The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
This is all tough for me to take. I love cheese. And eat way way too much of it. I understand the government's role in promoting American-made food products, but it's hard enough resisting the allure of nature's candy without millions of tax dollars going to help urge me to eat The Wisconsin.
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. Called the Wisconsin, the new pie has six cheeses on top and two more in the crust. “This is one way that we can support dairy farms across the country: by selling a pizza featuring an abundance of their products,” a Domino’s spokesman said in a news release. “We think that’s a good thing.”As the NYTimes graphic indicates, America's per capita cheese consumption has nearly tripled in the last 40 years. Budget-wise, this is by no means egregious. A few million Agriculture dollars is a drop in the bucket of federal spending, obviously. But the message programs like this send is a troubling one. We should be engaged in marketing tasty, healthy foods grown domestically. That would provide all the economic help the food industry needs without sacrificing the public health in the process.
A laboratory test of the Wisconsin that was commissioned by The Times found that one-quarter of a medium thin-crust pie had 12 grams of saturated fat, more than three-quarters of the recommended daily maximum. It also has 430 calories, double the calories in pizza formulations that the chain bills as its “lighter options.”
The fat in cheese? It sells itself. As my daily intake attests.