For numerous decades, if you said dairy, you may as well have said “government” in the next breath—from direct subsidies to dairy farmers to marketing assistance to the distribution of cheese to the poor in the ’80s and ’90s, dairy and government have walked hand in hand. Sometimes for the better (witness the surging artisan cheese movement in Wisconsin, spurred in part by assistance and coordination from the University of Wisconsin) and sometimes for the worse (pictured: a cheese sculptor).

We’ve now reached a really weird point in the relationship between government, cows, cheese, and butter. On one hand, we’ve got the government telling us to eat less dairy (particularly cheese on dishes such as nachos and pizza) because the whole country has basically become one giant pile of obesity. On the other hand, as the New York Times noted late last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually “teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.”

In other words: While telling us to quit eating so much cheese because it’s killing us, the government successfully (and brilliantly, I argued at the time) helped a major cheese distributor greatly increase the amount of cheese it pumped directly into American arteries. Oh well. (If this all seems a little reminiscent of a drug pusher successfully cornering his market at the expense of his users’ physical health, well, it turns out cheese actually contains small amounts of morphine, so, there you go.)

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the government cheese thing has gotten downright old-school in a way that’s really annoying quite a few people. An EU-funded scheme is starting to distribute “53 tonnes of fresh cheddar” from “collection centres in towns and cities around the country.”

The opposition’s caustic take on things, via the Guardian: “It goes to show that they think that providing free cheese will soft soap the electorate and make us all forget the mess Fianna Fáil made of the country and the hardship Brian Lenihan will inflict on everyone. It won’t.”

In a nutshell, then: Teach a man to make artisan cheese, and you help gastronomy and economic development. Teach a large company to market a cheesier pizza, and you get even more rampant obesity. And hand an Irish person a block of cheddar, and you’re liable to tick off the opposition party. On the other hand, of course, you’ve given someone a block of presumably decent cheddar, which is kind of a positive thing. Compared to war and taxes, it really isn’t half bad.

Image source: Flickr member Joe Shlabotnik under Creative Commons

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