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.