The cheese wars

Industry shenanigans and health alarmism

November 10, 2010

Last Sunday, the lead story in the New York Times was a food-politics fracas, detailing the apparent hypocrisy of the USDA in telling Americans that saturated fat is bad for them while helping the Domino’s pizza-delivery chain develop and market a line of pizzas loaded with cheese.

Granted, encouraging Americans to eat massive quantities of fast food (and supporting a single corporation in the effort) is questionable. But, as reporter Michael Moss noted, the USDA is a federal agency stuck with the long-term consequences of its own PR efforts:

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.

What to do with that surplus milk? Turn it into cheese, of course, a more shelf-stable product than milk, and try to get shoppers to buy it. The USDA wants Americans to eat well, but the agency is also supposed to help American food producers succeed. Sometimes, those goals conflict.

Hidden at the heart of the article was another American problem: Moss’s unquestioning reiteration of the standard USDA line that saturated fat is bad for you.

One slice [of the new Domino’s pizza] contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

What’s odd here is that the Times is also known for articles arguing just the opposite: that a diet high in saturated fat isn’t necessarily worse for you than a diet high in unsaturated fat. The chief figurehead for this alternative theory is science journalist Gary Taubes, who in 2002 wrote a provocative magazine article for the Times titled “What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” His championing of a diet low in refined carbs made him a hero to such traditional-diet folks as the Weston A. Price Foundation and such low-carb proponents as the Atkins dieters.

The magazine article led in turn to Taubes’ magnum opus, the 2007 book Good Calories, Bad Calories, which exhaustively detailed the history of how the low-fat-diet hypothesis became dogma in American culture. One of Taubes’ many targets in the book was New York Times health reporter Jane Brody, whose dietary prescriptions are exactly opposite to those of Taubes.

Confused yet? If you feel like it, wade deeper into the murky Times waters with conflicting Times reviews of Good Calories, Bad Calories, by John Tierney and Gina Kolata.

There is 1 comment on this item
Add a comment
1. by anonymous on Nov 11, 2010 at 7:06 AM PST

The Times does like to talk out of both sides of its mouth but there’s no need for dietary confusion. It is becoming more and more clear that saturated fat is NOT the villain but excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates are. I’ve been eating low carb for 3 years now and have no problem (at 53) keeping my weight down. Thumbs up to Gary Taubes whose book does an excellent job of explaining how this works and how we’ve been fed a lie all these years.

The quality of the government cheese may be in question but it’s not dangerous to your health-----it’s the white flour crust that’s the problem.

Add a comment

Think before you type

Culinate welcomes comments that are on-topic, clean, and courteous. For the benefit of the community we reserve the right to delete comments that contain advertising, personal attacks, profanity, or which are thinly disguised attempts to promote another website.

Please enter your comment

Format: Bare URLs are automatically linked; use this style: [ "place text to be linked here"] for prettier links. You may specify *bold* or _italic_ text. No HTML please.

Please identify yourself

Not a member? Sign up!

Please prove that you’re not a computer

Dinner Guest

The gamification of cooking

Earning points

Most of the time with cooking and eating, the rules are clear.

Graze: Bites from the Site
First Person

The secret sharer

A father’s legacy

The Culinate Interview

Mollie Katzen

The vegetarian-cooking pioneer


Down South

Barbecue, tamales, cocktails, and more

Local Flavors

A winter romesco sauce

Good on everything

Editor’s Choice