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America’s Weird And Wasteful Relationship With Cheese Continues

They don’t call it “American cheese” for nothing

Is it just us, or are we having a serious case of extra-cheesy deja-vu?


This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to spend a quick $20 million worth of cold, hard cash on dairy in order to offset dramatic losses by farmers across the country (who had initially tried to sell Uncle Sam $150 million in cheese). The drop in dairy consumption has several causes, including growing competition from China, Russian sanctions, and, we suspect, a serious lack of Got Milk? ads. But the purchase is actually even more unnecessary, and more common, than you might think.

Photo via Flickr

While it may seem novel that milk purchases have become both a barometer for global malaise and a public service, the truth is that the American government and cheese go way back. It all started in the 1930s, when post-Depression safety nets for farmers were put in place through the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933.

Many experts believed that an agricultural slowdown was at the root of the financial crisis, and wanted to prevent farmers from going bankrupt. In some cases, they were actually paid not to produce milk and other commodities; today, $180 billion in U.S. goverment funds goes toward supporting farmers in various ways, from price supports to supply chain regulation—at least $20 billion of which goes to dairy producers alone.

[quote position="full" is_quote="false"]The purchase is actually even more unnecessary, and more common, than you might think.[/quote]

Another part of the plan involved stockpiling huge amounts of cheese—so much so that by the 1980s, storing it had become a logistical nightmare. Rather than throw it away (because nothing makes people angrier than seeing lots of dairy destroyed) Reagan decided to give it away to the country’s poor as part of the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program, which was designed to supplement the diets of low-income and elderly Americans...but also became a convenient way for the USDA to sell moldy cheese to the government.

This time around, about 11 million pounds of purchased cheese is going to go toward supplemental nutrition—which will barely make a dent in the 759 million pounds currently in storage.

We smell some Got Cheese? ads in our future.

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