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"While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales"

"...a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police."

read more... http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/us/...

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  1. This is sort of misleading. Ok, not "sort of" ... really misleading.

    It isn't cheese, per se, that's the problem. It's cheese in highly processed and fast foods AND eating too much of those foods.

    The French eat alot of cheese, and generally have more saturated fats as a percentage of total calories than most Americans diets. Same for the Mediterranean diet.

    The problem isn't eating cheese, or even eating cheese on pizzas, it's how much cheese (regardless the kind, or the vehicle in which it is ingested -- i.e., on crackers or on a Domino's pizza) the American public is consuming.

    In theory, there would be nothing wrong -- and nothing antithetical about reducing obesity in the U.S. -- to promote cheese consumption if American consumers would only learn one thing ... moderation.

    20 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      I find it curious that you find it "really misleading" to suggest that overconsumption of cheese is a problem in the American diet, but not to acknowledge that it is misleading that "Dairy Management, ... a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting."

      I don't see anywhere that it suggests eliminating cheese from one's diet, but promoting consumption of a slice that contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, seems to be "really misleading", when promoted by a division of the gov't agency that is supposed to be promoting healthy eating.

      1. re: Rmis32

        There is nothing inherently wrong with eating a slice of pizza with "two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat." That's not the problem with America's obesity problem, it's eating that second, third and fourth slice that's the problem, and then repeating it the next day for week's on end. That's the problem.

        And, it's not just the cheese on a slice of pie that contributes to the total amount of saturated fats -- sausage and pepperoni anyone?

        Look, I'm not saying that a Domino's pizza is something we should be eating. I'm just saying that eating a slice of pizza, on its own, is not the root cause of the obesity issue. It's overconsumption -- of total calories and saturated fats.

        Warning about the fat (and trying to reduce the obesity rate) is not mutually exclusive from advocating the consumption of cheese (or dairy).

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Exactly. Until Americans understand that it's not the cheese, fat, or the saturated fat, or the salt, or the red meat, or the pork, or the ... whatever, that's killing them, we'll never cure the obesity epidemic.

          What's killing us and making so many of us, particularly our children, obese, is eating WAY TOO MUCH cheese, fat, saturated fat, salt, red meat, etc. and eating it all to the exclusion of other healthy foods.

          Cheese is a very healthy food and there is nothing hypocritical about the USDA advocating for cheese or other dairy products. Cheese only becomes unhealthy when its abused. The same could be said for almost any good thing!

          And if ability to lose or gain weight while eating a diety heavy in a product is considered the measure of the health value of that product, then the government, should be touting Twinkies as the ulitmate health food:

      2. re: ipsedixit

        "The problem isn't eating cheese, or even eating cheese on pizzas, it's how much cheese (regardless the kind, or the vehicle in which it is ingested -- i.e., on crackers or on a Domino's pizza) the American public is consuming. "
        agreed. however, i think it's rather irresponsible for a government-funded organization to help companies like Domino's come up with new ways to cram even more cheese onto and into a slice of pizza, thereby increasing the amount the public consumes, even if they still only eat one slice.

        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          It's irresponsible only depending on your point of view. If you have no problems with your weight, or with portion control, what's the problem?

          It's like how the entrapment defense never works in real life. A drug dealer cannot say the government entrapped him into selling dope by setting up a trap. Why? Because the drug dealer wouldn't have fallen for the trap if he wasn't predisposed to sell drugs in the first place.

          Same with pizza and cheese. Too much -- or lets be neutral here, "more cheese" -- on pizza is only really a problem for people who don't just eat one slice, but one slice every 10 minutes ... and then chase it all down with some mozarella sticks.

          I really wish the government would refocus the discussion on HOW MUCH people are eating and not so much on WHAT people are eating.

          If people learned about portion control and what it feels like to be satiated (as opposed to stuffed), just about any food item can be incorporated into a healthy, well-balanced diet. Yes, that includes cheese pizza with pepperoni and sausages, and whatever other fixins you want.

          If I may pontificate for one more minute ... there is no "good" or "bad" food. Only good and bad ways people treat food.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            i guess the primary reason i said it's irresponsible is because it appears to me that the USDA is talking out of both sides of its mouth.

            but as you said, "I really wish the government would refocus the discussion on HOW MUCH people are eating and not so much on WHAT people are eating. "

            by helping companies like Domino's cram even more cheese (or any other calorie- fat- or sugar-dense ingredient) into their product, they're essentially enabling a passive increase in *how much* people are eating.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Ipsedixit, I wish the government would not address the question of how much people are eating or what they are eating at all. It is none of the government's business.

              Also, I agree with you upthread where you talked about the nature of the cheese people eat (processed, non-aged, etc.) as a problem, but still, the government should stay out of our lives--gastronomic or otherwise.

              I don't intend to pay my taxes for the government to tell people how to eat or to make it more difficult for people to eat in a way that the government views as unhealthy. If the American Heart Association wants to promote good eating habits, that's fine. It is a private organization and can do what it wants. In contrast, the government will try to coerce you--through taxes or banning certain foods or banning foods with a certain fat content--into eating what it wants you to eat. No thanks!

              1. re: gfr1111

                Respectfully, the government has a huge vested interest in reining in health costs related to obesity, for which it pays with your tax dollars. Medicare and Medicaid costs are budget busters and are increasing at a rate much higher than revenue sources to support them. From a budget standpoint, the only positive contribution by the obese sector is that they die sooner. And the appointment of an overly plump Surgeon General who is otherwise invisible was dumber than dumb.

                1. re: Veggo

                  I'm just surprised that after the benefits to society brought about by
                  1. seat belts & other car safety measures
                  2. anti smoking measures
                  3. anti drunk driving enforcement
                  that so many people don't see a role for gov't to play a role in encouraging safer, more healthful behavior.

                  1. re: Rmis32

                    .... so many people don't see a role for gov't to play a role in encouraging safer, more healthful behavior.


                    I think people generally do see role for government involvement. The dispute arises as to what that role should be, and how it should be implemented.

                    Like I said upthread, the government should turn its focus on HOW MUCH people eat, not so much WHAT people are eating.

                    Also, don't overlook what Veggo said about the earlier (and more deaths) caused by obesity, and in your example smoking. There is a very plausible argument (while hard to quantify) that earlier deaths save society more in medical costs than keeping the elderly around for years on end. Heartless maybe, but it might just economically sound. So if one really wants to save on healthcare costs, maybe we should be pushing complete sloth and all the cheese laden pizzas every pubescent teenager can ingest. Make it part of the requirement when you register for the Selective Service perhaps ...

                    (Also, when wrote "anti drunk driving enforcement" ... I believe you meant just "drunk driving enforcement", right?)

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Pre-mature death might be really harmful to cheese sales and we can't tolerate that. Whether one lives a long or short life, it seems it's that last miserable year that really drives up health care costs, but that's a separate issue. Chronic diet related diseases, such as diabetes, which often leads to kidney problems and dialysis, seem to be worth an effort at prevention. Both from an economic standpoint and quality of life consideration.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Right, don't forget 2 packs of Camel straights daily. You did overlook the small matter of who pays taxes longest--long-lived, healthy citizens or over-fed diabetic blimps who peg out at 30 after only a few years of work. Not exactly an actuarially informed argument.

                        1. re: Kagemusha

                          Tobacco should be carved out of this discussion because the $206 billion Master Tobacco Settlement is a fait accompli, and the 46 states that participated are effectively duplicitous drug dealing partners and are hopelessly addicted to the money from it. The states that sold their future stream of revenue from the settlement are precluded from speaking against tobacco use for conflict and liability if they were to do so.
                          But on the food issue, you are mis-reading ipsedixit's argument and you are both on the same song sheet.

                          1. re: Veggo

                            "There is a very plausible argument (while hard to quantify) that earlier deaths save society more in medical costs than keeping the elderly around for years on end. Heartless maybe, but it might just economically sound."

                            Sorry but I detect no irony here, just inanity and fiscal ignorance as I argued above.

                            1. re: Kagemusha

                              Where is the fiscal ignorance? The sums spent on medical care for the final 6 months of life of the aged and dying in America is extraordinary. And a topic worthy of debate, but the costs are not disputable.

                              1. re: Veggo

                                Dead people aren't great taxpayers. Many of those aged bed blockers paid taxes over decades of their working lives. Letting potentially tax-paying citizens morph into disabled whales saves no money relative to their lost tax contributions over a lifetime. Where would you put the savings reaped from letting them all die?

                                1. re: Kagemusha

                                  And dead people don't cost taxpayers, dieing people do. Way more than they ever paid in taxes. As I said above, it is a worthy topic for debate.
                                  Where would I put the savings? There is no savings. But keeping a $1.3 trillion deficit from getting worse is called sanity.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    I'd call a progressive personal income tax a great start but then the topic was fromage, non?

                                    1. re: Kagemusha

                                      Pax, I enjoyed the debate.
                                      But the cheese stands alone, said the farmer in the dell.

                                    2. re: Veggo

                                      And dead people don't cost taxpayers, dieing people do.


                                      Indeed. Most people would be shocked at the aggregate amounts that Medicare pays out annually for hospice and home health care, not to mention palliative care. And that's just Medicare, which doesn't include Medicaid (and of course private pay).

                                      Just sayin ...

            2. According to this: http://www.fas.usda.gov/dlp2/circular...
              France, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland all consume considerably more cheese on average than we do. Are they as fat? I think not. Don't blame the cheese!

              1. I don't see a big issue. The article makes it sound like the AD is being hypocritical, but it's not. A division withing the department is working for one cause while another is working for a different cause. Nothing says the two have to be helping one another, or even be aware of what the other is doing.

                The Dairy Management supports the dairy industry. And, while that includes cheese, which is high in fat, it also includes milk, arguably the most nutritious food item. In addition, as the article points out, it's mainly financed by the industry.

                Then there's the biggest issue. Stop blaming the fast food industry, along with other things such as HFCS, for America's health/obesity issues. Many other places in the world have access to the same items we have and they're fine. The two differences at play here is portion size and activity.

                Cheese, fast food, HFCS and everything else isn't bad for our health. Excessive consuming without exercise is bad for our health. The AD, marketing and the industry isn't forcing anyone to consume excessive amount of cheese and not exercise - That's being done by the consumer.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ediblover

                  I guess, then, that you would see nothing wrong with the police dept enforcing drug laws while another division, in the dept advises pushers on how they can sell more drugs.

                  If the government is giving any advice at all, wouldn't it be preferable to promote healthy foods that we are not eating enough, rather than foods that we seem to have trouble eating in appropriate quantities? Is our priority really to help mega sized fast food chains move more product?

                  1. re: Rmis32

                    Sorry, but drugs (at least contraband) is illegal. Cheese, last I checked, is not.

                    And, to take your analogy, our government already does that with drugs. FDA sanctions and promotes the use of certain painkillers for therapeutic purposes (Oxycontin, Fetanyl, etc.), but at the same the DEA is enforcing drugs laws to prevent abuse and diversion. Happens everyday, and all the time.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Perhaps if government picked up the tab for health care there would be an obvious contradiction and a greater incentive to keep the pigs away from trough. Canadians get this but Americans don't. Simply insisting on full disclosure from fast food joints in the form of a "Nutrition Facts" breakdown(calories/ serving along with sodium, fat, carbs, protein as a % of recommended daily intake)would wise people up fast--assuming they read it, much like the scary Canadian warnings plastered all over cigarette packs that are hidden from view where they're still sold. Sometimes people do need to be protected from themselves for the greater good, especially when it involves an inch thick baked cheese frisbee masquerading as a pizza.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        Funny thing about that. Of the 3 McDonald's I've driven by recently, 2 had a banner for the McRib that confused me; it announced its price ($2.99) and calorie (500). I keep wondering if someone thought that 500 calories was a good amount (Given quality/taste, not really) or if they just went the full disclosure route.

                2. The principal function of the Department of Agriculture is to promote the sale of anything in America that is edible, and to strong-arm other countries that would otherwise restrict or tax the importation of American edibles. Think $$$.
                  The Surgeon General's job is to teach us how to get skinny again. Pop quiz: - no cheating or Googleing allowed - , who can name our surgeon general? And what has he or she done for you lately?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Veggo

                    Regina Benjamin! but you're right, i doubt the majority of Americans could name *any* Surgeon General aside from C. Everett Koop - he was the only one who ever really became a household name. Elders & Carmina got some exposure, but still wouldn't be easy for most to name/recall.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Surgeons General tend not to be charismatic public speakers, which is unfortunate because they have SO SO much influence on public behavior. But I am forever grateful to Joseph A. Califano Jr. for persuading me to quit cigarettes, which I did on January 10, 1978. Because of him.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Surgeon General Regina Benjamin doesn't look like she's been skimping too much on the cheese, or the cheese pizzas herself.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          Ah yes, Jocelyn Elders, the one who promoted cozying up with ourselves, for a night of fun.,if you get my drift.

                          1. re: ospreycove

                            Another example of how Surgeons General DO make lasting impressions. It is pathetic that so many are chosen for reasons other than competence. Chowhound is a perfect forum for passing discontent to the Beltway gang on this topic, I hope a few there are readers. I know some at the Wash Post are.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              "Chowhound is a perfect forum for passing discontent to the Beltway gang on this topic, I hope a few there are readers."
                              well, even if they are, i hope they're not spending too much time screwing around here on the boards. they've got a country to fix! ;)

                            2. re: ospreycove

                              i would have loved to see her in a debate with Christine O'Donnell :)

                        2. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colb...

                          Pretty hilarious. Quite possibly Colbert's best bit.

                          1. I'd be more inclined to be highly skeptical of the government's warnings and claims that fat is bad for you than disturbed by the govt pushing sales of cheese.

                            1 Reply
                            1. One thing that really bothers me about this article, aside from its content, is that the NY Times even published it.

                              Even if it is a liberal fishwrap, the NY Times is one of the last bastions of print journalism. To see it stoop to yellow journalism like this is really sad.

                              1 Reply
                              1. Y'all need to step back. It's not about cheese or obesity.
                                What's wrong here is that the government has taken over what should be a private marketing function. America's dairy industry and, in this case, its cheese makers, can fund and operate their own trade association to promote their products. Somehow the government has chosen to assume control and flack for them.
                                The cost to the taxpayer is not large (a few million here, a few million there) as this is largely funded by a mandatory contribution from dairy farmers. But it requires the Secretary of Agriculture to appoint the Board and perform other functions.
                                Ag does this for a few other products like beef and pork. They should stop. Get rid of these programs which amount to government control and subsidy.
                                The Agriculture Department should provide us with objective, science-based nutrition information, help farmers, and provide oversight on food safety. They should not be an ad agency.

                                If we end stuff like this, we can begin to trim the deficit and the debt. Get rid of it for whatever reason you choose, but get rid of it.
                                The Washington Post challenged the new GOP congress to try. Whether they want them to lose in the next election for attacking sacred cows (excuse the pun) or they're serious about smaller government remains to be seen. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

                                13 Replies
                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  There is more than meets the eye here. Among nations there is a constant ebb and flow of tariffs and import restrictions of agricultural products and threats of such. It's an endless mercantile poker game on a global scale - "you don't buy our car parts, we will find pernicious fungus on your oranges". Japan played that game well, restricting American beef for no valid reason. By default, the US must take a unified position on these matters. But we taught developing nations all about the virtues of capitalism with the intent of fleecing them in the process, sort of like teaching kids poker to rob their allowance. The kids have since grown up and are outwitting us at our own game, big time. I would love to play poker with our dim-witted policy makers and their fat paychecks. Or even better, chess, because they are blind beyond 2 moves. Viva En passant...

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    You're right that they're playing chess while our bureaucrats play checkers, but you're off on a tangent.
                                    The issue at hand is the assumption by the government of marketing responsibilities that private industry should and could do for itself. These programs may be small but added together they begin to add up to a serious commitment of federal funds that we might better direct to necessities.
                                    This is a domestic spending issue first and foremost before we even begin to address the promotion of US products and services overseas. Getting our own financial house in order will strengthen us globally.

                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                      A patronizing, socialist leaning government will always wrestle for custody of private affairs. We get what we ask for. Our baby sitter is expensive, and babies crawl with no boundaries and so there are no tangents.

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        Yep. And there is an attitude that if it's got the government's blessings, it must be good.
                                        That's gotta stop.
                                        What the government gives, the government can take away.

                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                          A good thread, and I bid adieu for risk of tanking it. I have that way...

                                  2. re: MakingSense

                                    It's called lobbying.

                                    Fact of life.

                                    It's also why no one wants to "fix' Medicare and Social Security. Retired people have lots of time, and much of that is spent on figuring out the election ballot.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      That has nothing to do with cheese.
                                      While many are perseverating about various programs that may or may nor benefit them now or in the future, they ignore the 1000s of government programs that drain resources, stifle the private sector, and cost billions. These programs seem innocuous enough but their costs add up to serious money.
                                      We need to hunt them down and kill them.
                                      I'd eat good cheese even if this program died tomorrow at 10 AM. Wouldn't you?

                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                        I'd eat good cheese even if this program died tomorrow at 10 AM. Wouldn't you?


                                        And what are these "1000s of government programs that drain resources, stifle the private sector, and cost billions" that you speak of?

                                        Your posts belie your handle.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          If the government's participation in the program was discontinued tomorrow morning, it would not affect your cheese consumption.
                                          QED - at least for you.

                                    2. re: MakingSense

                                      I agree that it seems beyond gov't's role to be providing marketing help to private enterprise, but I think there is a larger question here. As the world becomes more & more complicated and the trend is for corporations and mega-sized farms to become larger, their impact also is greater.

                                      When a half billion eggs are tainted w/salmonella, millions of pounds of ground beef is recalled from school lunch programs due to e coli contamination and our already high health care costs are projected to go even higher due to increased incidence of obesity & diabetes, we must decide whether these are acceptable risks or do we want gov't to intervene. Does the greater public welfare justify infringements on personal & corporate freedom or not?

                                      Smaller gov't is a popular sentiment nowadays, but when something terrible happens, eg. Katrina or the BP oil spill, people cry out to gov't. "save us, save us". Our big capitalist enterprises also ask gov't to stay out of the way when they're making profits, but want bailouts when things go awry.

                                      At one time traffic accidents were considered to be a matter of personal responsibility. Yet we learned that by making seat belt installation & use compulsory (among other safety enhancements), many lives are saved each year.

                                      Conservatives believe that gov't is too incompetent & inefficient to solve these problems. Liberals feel these are issues too important to be left to market forces to resolve without the gov't influencing & regulating for the public good. Unfortunately, they're both right.

                                      1. re: Rmis32

                                        Any and all slugging it out here owe themselves (and us) some time with David Leonhardt and Bill Marsh's budget graphic, "Get a Pencil. You're Tackling the Deficit" in today's NYT. It might dissipate some of the hot air and add some much needed perspective.


                                        1. re: Rmis32

                                          Government has legitimate functions and all but the most theoretical lalaland libertarians will acknowledge that. The larger question is where does it stop and how effectively does the government coordinate its functions.
                                          It was easy to see the breakdown in the government response to the BP spill. Regulations from Interior, EPA, and NOAA (part of Commerce) conflicted with one another and led to long delays in deploying time-tested responses to impending damage. On the other hand, we see exemplary government response to more predictable emergencies such as wildfires.
                                          With the Dairy marketing program, we have a conflict between the government suborning an increase in cheese consumption at the same time another program discourages the consumption of high fat food. Go figure.

                                          There are things which only a central government can do and which the Constitution empowers them to undertake. But redundancy and overlapping function has led to inflexibility and huge costs both to the federal budget and downstream in the economy.
                                          No one can make us 100% safe. At what point do we say that the financial cost, surrendering our liberties, and regulatory burdens exceed the benefits of any particular program? When does one program conflict with the goals of another? Exactly where are our priorities?
                                          To me, encouraging Americans to eat more cheese is not a useful function of government.

                                          We're not talking about a lot of money here. But if we can all pretty much agree that this type of program is not in the best interest of the nation, we have a starting point for a consensus. Cut this and then move on. Let's find other things we can live without.

                                      2. ok but I love cheese and i don't think it's necessarily something to cut out. neither is fat provided it's not just a lot of highly heated oils (as in deep frying) or trans fats.