I love cheese, I really do. I would take a supper of cheese, good grainy bread, and a crisp green salad over almost anything else–over foie gras, or white truffles, over a succulent steak, even over a rich pasta al forno (lasagna) unless it comes with plenty of cheese. Of course, there’s cheese and then there’s. . . Kraft singles.
That rubberized stuff that passes for mozzarella in supermarket delis. Cheez Whiz. “Parmesan” in the shiny green tube. Cheap cheese.
So I was startled to read about American cheese consumption recently in Michael Moss’s brilliant Salt, Sugar, Fat (Random House, 2013). We Americans, it appears, have become out-and-out pigs for cheese and that’s not good. Here’s what Moss, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times journalist, has to say–sorry no page citation because I read it on my Kindle:
“Americans now eat as much as 33 pounds or more of cheese and pseudo-cheese products a year, triple the amount we consumed in the early 1970s. Our intake of cheese continues to swell, increasing 3 pounds per person per year since 2001. Cheese has become the single largest source of saturated fat in the American diet, though it is hardly the only culprit. Americans on average are exceeding the recommended maximum of [saturated] fat by more than 50 percent.” Moss goes on to note that cheese and pizza together account for more than 14% of the saturated fat being consumed in America.“Pizza,” he says, quoting an industry executive, “is basically a vehicle for conveying cheese.”
Growing by 3 pounds per person per year? That’s a lot of cheese–and most of it not consumed as cheese but as add-ons, flavorings, bulking up the salt and fat in every fast food/snack food/processed food we put in our mouths. Mostly cheap cheese, not the good stuff in the picture up there (which, by the way, was taken at a restaurant in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot).
Moss makes no dietary recommendations in his book–he’s just an observer looking at what’s happening–but we might all want to take a look at what we’re actually consuming, and especially at what we’re giving our children to snack on. Cheese puffs, cheese straws, cheese pretzels, cheesy chips and popcorn, Cheetos, Cheezits? It’s too easy to grab a bag and go.
Can you have your cheese and eat it too? Yes, but make it in small, discreet quantities and be mindful of what you’re eating. With high-quality cheese selling at upwards of $22 a pound, that gets a little easier to do. And you don’t have to go to Puglia to get it either.
Good grief, I did not know it had gotten that out of hand. Of course, all one need to is check the girth of the average American, and the pieces do fall into place. I note with interest the author’s comment about pizza being a cheese conveyance mechanism. Even prior to my retirement from nursing, and very much more so now, a common refrain from physicians exhorting their patients to lose weight was/is “Cut out the pizza.” The physicians have been hep to the overloaded pie for quite some time now.
We often talk about fine extra virgin olive oil being costly, but we accept it and know that we are not going to drink the whole bottle in thirty seconds or less – ditto for fine cheese. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in our neighborhood cheese monger’s shop when a woman complained bitterly about the cost of her cheese. Quite surprised, the clerk looked up and said “Well, ma’am. You’re not going to eat it all at once.” It quickly became apparent to all from the look on the customer’s face that she did intend to eat it all at once. What ever happened to the art of thoughtful eating, eating where folks savor what is in their mouth and actually wait for all the flavors to reveal themselves? It just seems to me that many people just stuff food in their mouths, taking nary a second to really enjoy the moment. A pity indeed.
Great piece. Living in France and married to a Frenchman, cheese is a part of our everyday life, eaten after every lunch and dinner. But, as you say, it is high quality and eaten sensibly (mostly). And it is part of a pretty balanced diet which includes fruits and vegetables and little snacking. It is shocking to think of the quantities that Americans (or the French) eat of cheese, but I think it goes really wrong when it is mostly junk cheese AND part of an overall horrific diet. Thanks for a thoughtful, thought-provoking post.