Cheese

I am getting increasingly concerned about cheese.

Last night i was in the local Kroger, getting some sandwich stuff, and as I searched through the various packages of sliced, yellow substance, I got a little uncomfortable.

When I was a kid, there was American Cheese. That’s what it was called. Sometimes a clever grocer would label it “Pasteurized Process American Cheese”, which i assume was a reassurance similar to the old “Safe as Milk” phrase popular in the 20th century.

You could also find on the shelves something called “Imitation American Cheese”. I remember thinking that this was a particularly honest way for a manufacturer to label something that wasn’t quite real. A cheese that was the sincerest form of flattery couldn’t be all bad.

We all grew up with food products that were intentionally misspelled for legal reasons. Each of us knows that “Cheese” is a dairy product, and “Cheez” is a petroleum product. We know that “Cheez Whiz” is a product name that represents both bad and good news. It contains no cheese, but fortunately it is also contains no actual whiz. “Froot Loops” contain no fruit, and we’ve grown accustomed to that.

Last night, as I perused the refrigerated section, it became clear that things have changed. First, I picked up and examined a package of “American Cheese Food”. To me, it is extremely disconcerting to consider eating a substance so far removed from normal comestibles that we must be reminded that it’s food. The implication is that if “food” weren’t part of the name, some consumers might become confused and think they’d bought a cleaning product, or an industrial lubricant, or perhaps a nonskid floor tile.

A look at the ingredients was even less reassuring, and perhaps provides some explanation as to why it’s not immediately recognizable as edible.

More of a shock was in store for me as I looked further. Down on the bottom shelf, in the off-prime space that supermarkets reserve for the dollar-a-pound bologna and the day-old bread, I found a package labeled “Pasteurized Process Cheese Product”. If I was uncomfortable about the “cheese food”, this was far, far more sinister. This was clearly the ne’er-do-well of the cheese family, having sunk so low that it could no longer legally be called “food”, but must be labeled as “product”.

If there were ever a vague, meaningless description, it’s “product”. It literally means a thing that has been produced. By that definition, cow patties are a product, but not a food. With that as an example, we set the stage for waves of nausea, and I dropped the “product” like a hot potato — oops, I mean hot “starch product”.

Sometimes I think I’d prefer Cheez. Hold the Whiz.

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