One of the weekend's most-discussed stories turned out to be not about the midterms or Obama's South Asia trip--rather, it was about cheese. The New York Times' Michael Moss took a long look at a group called Dairy Management, "a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture" that has been working like crazy to get Americans to eat more of the very products the USDA admits elsewhere are making America fat. Why? It's a troubling story: "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," explains Moss. What Dairy Management is actually doing, then, is helping to get that surplus of fat back into the American diet through other channels--namely, cheese. Moss reports, for example, that Dairy Management helped revive Domino's Pizza's flagging sales by partnering with them to "develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese."Reaction to the piece mixes anger with disgust and weary frustration--many of the left-leaning bloggers have written about harmful federal subsidies before. Others do variations on a unifying theme: if Republicans are looking for places to cut spending, Dairy Management might be a good place to start.
- 'Story of the Month,' declares Mike Allen's Playbook. The part he highlights: "One quarter (And who stops there?!) of a Domino's American Legends Wisconsin six-cheese pizza contains 77% of ... recommended daily allowance of saturated fat."
- The Most Disgusting Things to Contemplate "Some may remember a wave of news a few years ago about a study that eating more dairy helps to lose weight? It was funded and produced by--you guessed it--Dairy Management," writes Jean Stevens at Change.org, noting that it was later "disproved." She adds that the USDA's efforts "to sell more cheese-laden, artery-clogging, fatty foods at cheap, fast-food restaurants" are "especially gruesome, given that these restaurants target low-income communities who struggle most with obesity and weight-related illness."
- The 'Takeaway Factoid' Is That, Unfortunately, It's Working Josh Marshall highlights at Talking Points Memo the following part of Moss's piece: "Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate."
- Conclusion and Astounding Bit of Trivia "If Republicans are looking for budget items to cut, this would seem to be an obvious choice," writes Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy. He also updates his post with a point from the comments section. A reader notices in Moss's article that "For years, the federal government bought the industry's excess cheese and butter, an outgrowth of a Depression-era commitment to use price supports and other tools to maintain the dairy industry as a vital national resource. This stockpile, packed away in cool caves in Missouri, grew to a value of more than $4 billion by 1983." The commenter is blown away that there could have been caves in Missouri "with $4 billion worth of cheese."
- There's Really No Excuse "It seems pretty clear that the restaurant industry does a fairly good job on its own of promoting these products to the public, almost to the exclusion of healthier alternatives," comments Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. "There's no need for the USDA to use tax dollars to help them do that." Also, he adds, "this simply doesn't strike me as a legitimate function of government." But while he agrees with Jonathan Adler that Dairy Management ought to be axed, he argues that really the "entire farm subsidy program" needs to go. Here's the problem:
As long as future Presidents have to start their campaign in Iowa, though, it's going to be very hard to convince Members of Congress to eliminate a program that outlived its usefulness somewhere around the time Dwight Eisenhower was President.
- Republicans, This Is All You: Go for It "I await John Boehner's outraged press conference in which he pledges to get rid of this kind of spending," writes a skeptical Paul Waldman The American Prospect. "I'm sure they'll get to it right after they're done making sure no one can get help buying health insurance."
- What Liberals Prefer Not to Think About Sure it's "a conflict," writes David Franke at the Lew Rockwell blog, if the USDA is both telling Americans to eat less cheese and secretly getting them to eat more. "But strange? No. Stupid Big Government is as stupid Big Government does. There is a consistency here: Government acting stupidly." He, too, agrees that this program should be cut--but he thinks "the entire Department of Agriculture and the Food Police" should go as well.
- If We Could Get Rid of This and Keep the Teachers This sort of story about government support of cheese, says Think Progress's Matt Yglesias,
is what's frustrating about a lot of the recent conversation around "government spending" and "are public employees paid too much." When the government is doing something useless or harmful that it shouldn't be doing at all then there's no salary or pension level at which public employees or government contractors are delivering value to the American people. If you've got a worthwhile public function, it’s foolish to undermine it by being stingy about spending. But there's a fair amount of stuff like this in the budget that we could entirely do without.
- This Is What the USDA Was Created to Do, points out nutritionist Marion Nestle with Kerry Trueman on The Huffington Post. "From its beginnings in the 1860s, USDA's role was to promote U.S. agricultural production and sales, with the full support of what was then a largely agricultural Congress." It might make sense, she suggests, "to move dietary guidance into a more independent federal agency, NIH or CDC for example," so that there's less of a conflict.