USDA Fighting Obesity With One Hand, Promoting High-Fat Cheese With The Other

i love cheese photo

Cheese Promotion by Dairy Management

All the foodies are outraged by the New York Times Expose on the marketing of cheese. The front page story While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales by Michael Moss describes how Dairy Management helps companies like Dominos sell more pizza by packing on more cheese. But it is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture, which is at the center of an anti-obesity drive promoting healthy eating.

cheese consumption graph

Understanding dairy markets

Michael Moss writes in the Times:

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans' diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

Michael Pollan is outraged, and tweets "The USDA's conflict of interest problem in a nutshell: our tax dollars at work promoting Domino's pizza."

mozzarella graph

Understanding Dairy markets
Marion Nestle is also upset. After Moss quotes the USDA saying "'When eaten in moderation and with attention to portion size, cheese can fit into a low-fat, healthy diet,' she looks at the Dominos Pizza being discussed.

So let's talk about "moderation," a word that I find hard to use without irony. The pizza illustrated in Michael Moss's article is described as a "thin-crust medium pie." The diameter is not given, but one-fourth of the pie contains 430 calories, 12 grams of saturated fat (20 is the daily recommended upper limit), and 990 mg sodium (the upper limit is 2,300).

Who eats one-quarter of a pizza? Not anyone I know. So double all this if you share it with a friend. If you eat the whole thing-and why do I think that plenty of Domino Pizza customers do?-you are consuming more than 1700 calories, nearly 4,000 mg sodium (that's 10 grams of salt, by the way), and 48 grams of saturated fat. This is enough to make any nutritionist run screaming from the room.

But she is happy about one thing: the fact that food politics has become important.

I never thought I'd live to see the editors of the New York Times consider an article about USDA checkoff programs to be front-page news, and in the right-hand column yet, marking it as the most important news story of the day.

More at Food Politics

More on the American Diet

Michael Pollan: The Government Makes You Fat
Michael Pollan's Dietary Rules To Eat By
The Economist on the Politics of Food
What Makes You Fat?

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