A recent New York Times article on cheese, brought to my attention by Jordan G., beautifully illustrates the fact that the U.S. government is not a coherent bloc, but a collection of competing interests.

Last month Domino’s Pizza released a new pizza named “The Wisconsin.”   Named after a superbly cheesy state (one close to our hearts here at SocImages), the pizza has six cheeses on top and two in the crust.  The New York Times reports that one quarter of a pie (an amount I could certainly put away without effort), had more than 3/4ths of the recommended maximum in a day and double the calories of some of its other pizzas.

The Wisconsin:

Cheese, it turns out, is the main source of saturated fats in American diets and saturated fats contribute to significant morbidity and mortality in the U.S.  The government, accordingly, recommends that we eat less of it.

Document from the Department of Agriculture:

And here’s where the story gets interesting.  The Department of Agriculture is not only responsible for the health of Americans, it’s responsible for the health of the American food industry.  As consumption of cheese and non-low-fat milks declines in the U.S., the dairy industry suffers.  According to the New York Times:

Every day, the nation’s cows produce an average of about 60 million gallons of raw milk, yet less than a third goes toward making milk that people drink. And the majority of that milk has fat removed to make the low-fat or nonfat milk that Americans prefer. A vast amount of leftover whole milk and extracted milk fat results.

The government used to buy cheese and butter from its dairy farmers, leading to a vast collection of dairy products stored in underground caves in Missouri (totally not kidding). It’s switched strategies — after all, how much cheese and butter can one country hoard? — and while one arm of the Department of Agriculture tells us to eat less cheese, another is telling us to eat more.

In fact, the government spent $12 million American tax dollars marketing The Wisconsin pictured above.  Dairy Management is the dairy marketing arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  It has a budget of nearly $140 million per year… and it is in cahoots with pizza chains.

“This is one way that we can support dairy farms across the country: by selling a pizza featuring an abundance of their products,” a Domino’s spokesman said in a news release. “We think that’s a good thing.”

“Let’s sell more pizza and more cheese!” said two officials with Pizza Hut, which began putting cheese inside its crust after holding development meetings with Dairy Management, according to a memorandum released by the Agriculture Department.

Random suspicious documents:

Dairy Management’s Pizza Hut promotion in 2002 (the “Summer of Cheese”) reportedly pushed an additional 102 million pounds of cheese into American bellies.  And consumers are eating up Domino’s new pie.  The Times reports that sales have “soared by double digits.”

My co-blogger, Gwen, specializes in rural sociology and agriculture.  Discussing this post, she confirms:
It is a deeply, deeply divided government entity, with the “let’s sell more!” side almost always better funded… [than] the “but it kills people!” side.
Next up: Tobacco.
Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.