How Government Cheese Became Welfare For Farmers

How Government Cheese Became Welfare For Farmers

Government cheese. You probably
won’t find it in anyone’s fridge today,
but you might still catch glimpses of
it in pop culture. It made its way into
iconic standup sets and SNL sketches. You’re gonna end up
eating a steady diet of government cheese. It’s become a signifier
of urban poverty for artists from New York, …”cause I’m street
like powdered milk and government cheese.” …”after that government
cheese, we eatin’ steak.” Philadelphia, …”or like toast in the oven with
government cheese bubblin.” and Compton. …”what else is a thug to do when you
eatin’ cheese from the government” But the epicenter
of government cheese actually rested in Kansas City,
Missouri. The modest city stored 4 billion
dollars worth of government cheese in caves and
shipped millions of pounds of it all
across the country. When I was a kid and
we used to get it, it would come in these big
brick-type blocks and it’s like Day-Glo orange. You
can’t mistake it. In the mid 80s, at
the height of the government cheese phenomenon, there
were roughly 1.2 billion pounds of surplus
cheese in the U.S. That’s a lot of cheese.
But we actually have more today than we did in
1984. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story
of government cheese can be traced back to the
same roots as food assistance programs like SNAP
today. Not in humanitarianism but in agriculture. In
the case of government cheese, it all boiled
down to milk prices. People talked about food
assistance programs as if they were created to
help poor people out. And you know yes that’s true.
But almost all of the major food assistance
programs were ideas that came from agriculture because
we had too much of something. So what happened to
government cheese, and could it make a comeback? To
understand how we got to the point where Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg are talking about it… Where do you
buy government cheese? You don’t buy it. You’ve
got to be on their special mailing list. Let’s go back to the
very start of American cheese in the 1850s. In
1851, Jesse Williams opened the first American cheese factory
in Rome, New York. In 1903, James L. Kraft
moved from Canada to the U.S. and began selling cheese
out of a wagon in Chicago. A few years
later, he formed Kraft and brothers. And in 1916
he filed his first patent for the process to create
what we now know as American cheese. I have discovered that
cheese of the cheddar genus may be prevented
from disintegrating under the action of heat. And that cheese used
up a lot of milk. Cue the dairy farmers. Rural America represented over half of the population and farmers represented over half of rural America. So there was a real sense that if you were helping out farmers you were helping out just a whole lot of citizens. The Great Depression rocked the milk market, and the government stepped in
to help control prices. The USDA used a pricing index called the “Parity Price Formula.” Basically, if the price of milk dipped below what it cost to produce it, the government would help cover the difference. And that provided farmers with a peace of mind that their business wouldn’t tank because of something like an economic depression or a war. In 1949, Congress passed the Agricultural Act establishing a formal price support system for farmers. And it’s not just for cheese. The government tries to keep a stable supply of agricultural commodities like wheat, corn and dairy. One way to do that is by buying up extra product. That depression era logic really just kind of continued up until about the 1980s. There was always some event that that occurred that made you glad you had this program in place. By the end of the 70s, milk prices were all out of whack. In 1977, President Carter’s administration enacted a new subsidy that injected $2 billion into the dairy market over the next four years. Suddenly it was very profitable to produce milk. So farmers produced a lot of it. So much milk there was nowhere to store it all before it spoiled. It was turned into butter, powdered milk and cheese, and the government bought it up. Tons of it, literally. The government had so much excess dairy they didn’t know what to do with it. A lot of times when people talked about this, they talked about the government buying dairy products as if some guy was going down to the local Kroger’s and picking up a
cart full. But in fact what they did is they simply put out an announcement, ‘We will buy these products at these prices. Anybody interested? Let us know.’ In December 1981, President Reagan, who earlier that year had pledged to scale back the food stamp program, caved and said the U.S. would distribute 30 million pounds of extra cheese to those in need. With nonfat dry milk, you can send that overseas and there’s almost an unlimited potential to feed hungry people if you open it up to the world. Cheese has almost no feasible option to go overseas and so you had to do it domestically. Cheese is typically stored in bulk in 45 pound boxes or 500 pound barrels. But giving out whiskey barrel sized cheese just isn’t practical. So manufacturers started
processing it in smaller portions. And from the warehouses of Kansas City and other stockpiles across the country, boxes upon boxes of processed cheese were packaged up into five pound blocks, shipped across America and government cheese was born. By 1984, the U.S. was storing roughly 5
pounds of cheese for every American. It got to the point where agencies would be going to senior citizen centers with baskets of two pound loaves of processed cheese and just handing them out. The Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program sent the cheese to food pantries, school lunch programs and other organizations that could distribute the bricks of yellowy-orange dairy substance. It has a distinctive taste which people have described as like kind of a cheddar, cheese whiz type of thing. And it seems like people either loved it or hated it. Yeah there is no middle ground. Something that started out with economic intentions had social and political consequences. It was a staple of your childhood. So there is a nostalgia about that, similar to how a lot of people would feel about, you know, breakfast cereal or peanut butter and jelly. But at the same time it’s yet another aspect of life as a poor person that you had no control over. So you got it whether you wanted it or not and you had no choice if you liked it or not. This block of surplus dairy product became a neatly packaged symbol of economic status sitting in refrigerators across America. By the 90s, it wasn’t profitable for dairy
farmers to pump out so much milk, and government cheese essentially disappeared. You might still catch a reference to it on menus like Wahlburgers’. But today’s American cheese probably
isn’t coming from Uncle Sam. Dairy farmers are
struggling with low prices again, but not because
of an economic depression. Genetics, technology and big farms have made milk production more efficient than ever before. And consumer preferences are changing. Liquid milk consumption is down, but cheese consumption is on the rise. And we have a lot of cheese. But Americans don’t have the same desire for processed American cheese like they did in the 80s. Now it’s all about specialty artisan cheeses, which can turn a higher profit but they aren’t as easy to make en masse. So here we are. Dairy prices on edge, millions of Americans living with food insecurity, more than a billion pounds of extra cheese. Could government cheese be the answer? The government actually did buy up 11 million pounds of surplus cheese back in 2016, and distributed it through welfare programs. Since 2016, the USDA has spent more than $47 million buying up 22 million pounds of U.S. surplus cheese. There’s also a culture of dependency argument of farmers getting too used to having the government step in and make surpluses go away. At some point you start asking the question: Are farmers making milk just so they can sell it to some government program? Another place you may see
that extra dairy pop up: school lunches. The Trump administration has been scaling back some nutrition regulations in school cafeterias. And that’s good news for the dairy industry. 40% of milk consumption in the U.S. comes from kids two to 17-years-old. And with a higher sodium limit, school kitchens can incorporate more cheese into their plates. And there’s certainly plenty to go around. This notion of, ‘We’re really good at making stuff and sometimes we make a little bit more than we know what to do with,’ goes hand in hand with, ‘Oh there’s some people that really could use some help.’ So, you know, you can argue that’s a win win. But the people who are really concerned about food assistance say, well maybe these guys don’t want cheese.

Comments (100)

  1. I would buy it, and the gov. peanut butter as well.
    Best cheese & peanut butter ever created in the industry. No bs added, made just like they should be.
    Maybe, our government should sell the modern surplus & use the funds to pay off our national debt.

  2. We got it when I was in school. It was the Best cheese. They would let us know in the paper. Where to go to get it. The Best cheese ever.

  3. That big ass cheese brick was the bomb!

  4. I wonder what surplus we got now, and make that concept go like government cheese.

  5. More communist than Canada's marketing boards which don't rely on stealing taxpayer's money.

  6. Gubbment cheese. Best cheese ever invented.

  7. Women used to wake up before dawn just to stand in line for that cheese

  8. I remember that gov’ment cheese.

  9. My daddy was a goverment cheese hustler and retired to the Philippines with some ladyboys.

  10. I used to make triple cheese sandwich with 3 pieces of bread.


  12. The legendarily delicious government cheese is sorely missed.

  13. The Cheese was good, the peanut butter was an oily mess.

  14. Ahhhh, govt cheese…..
    Brings back memories of the 80's and was the best cheese that i can remember….. 5lb blocks we could pick up at the town hall once a month….

  15. And the peanut butter and reg butter were good too, but u can have the powdered milk, yuk!!! Lol….

  16. I wonder if Reagan ever had it did Nancy put some in his cheese omelet?

  17. Nope never looked like Velveeta cheese ,

  18. Wait!!! Is this Velveeta?? Looks like a bait and switch😂😂

  19. I vote Government Cheese for president.

  20. Best cheese ever

  21. Mac and cheese from that cheese wasn't runny and w eak.

  22. I love how communist this program is.

  23. Some people would give my Mom some of their government cheese because it was so much and mom would make the best macaroni and cheese so much that today I won't eat it, alone with rice and any type of bread.

  24. No lie, I miss that damn cheese.

  25. Got two blocks in my fridge right now.
    The struggle is real 💯

  26. This cheese made everything taste awesome.

  27. My mother didn't buy anything fancy, but we did have a cheese slicer. Lol

  28. I always liked government cheese. We used to go to the National Guard unit and get all kinds of food for free. Bologna, cheese, rice and some other foods I can't remember.

  29. Was I to young too experience this cheese wtf man I envy the people of had a chance to eat it

  30. Government cheese was great to cook with.

  31. They still make it it’s Call Mr. Sharpie and it has a rat 🐀 on it. Then the changed the name to Meadow Brooks it’s literally the highest 🧀 in the deli case

  32. That was some good cheese.

  33. When the deathacrats take over we will be eating cheese

  34. The new government cheese you can't give that shot away it light colored cheese taste bad .very bad I try to give it away no one.wants it.

  35. I've tasted it, don't like it, and I'm a cheese lover.

  36. Thee best for baked mac and cheese

  37. We didn't qualify for it. My dad would not have taken it even if we did. My grandma got a box and gave it to my mom. It made a good macaroni and cheese. Our school lunches had a lot of cheese recipes. Back then most of the school lunches were made from government surplus items.

  38. Was the best cheese in the world. Crazy. Been missing it for over 30 years now smh

  39. When I was in school, my Mom directed a Girl Scout camp. We had to store all that cheese, peanut butter, butter, rice, flour, cornmeal, raisins, powdered eggs, corn syrup, powdered milk and canned "pork". I forget what else, but we had to experiment with suitable ways to make the best use of the commodities in a camp setting.

  40. How do you guys remember how it taste? I can’t even remember what happened last week lol 😆

  41. Continue creating government cheese but dispute it to the homeless shelters, churches, schools, and to opt-in needy people programs only.

  42. Heard of it, but never had it. I'm sure it wasnt good for you tho… but better than starvation!

  43. We used to melt it and pour it over white rice and coleslaw, and mix it up and eat it with hot sauce. Kinda craving it right now. lol

  44. They were yanking Tf out of those utters, for that Gov cheese 🧀😔*

  45. I thought it was golden bricks

  46. they take too long to get to the point if they ever will

  47. In my little county (and all Southern counties) there is a political office called the Judge Executive who was the one who handled the cheese, dried milk and other freebies. No one knew why ppl couldn't get those things in our county until the damned demoncraper judge died and they found two barns on his farm stacked to the roof with those items, moldy and flattened from the weight of boxes atop of boxes. He ran a pig farm and had been fattening his pigs with the government hand-outs. That was back in the good ole days, for them, when demoncrapers ran everything in the state b/c they kept promising state workers bigger and bigger retirement benefits and, of course, had the entire state demoncraper media on their side to lie for the demoncrapers at every stinking breath. Those demoncrapers in media are still the only ones allowed on PBS (KET) t this day and they are still propagandizing the demoncraper cause. In Kentucky you are forbade from being on public television if you are a republican. Even now when we run the whole kit and caboodle with the exception of AG in the state.


  49. Should be more about how nutrition ,health not how we can make a buck or dump product

  50. I WANT CHEESE! MORE CHEESE! Cheese is too expensive, costing more than MEAT. I want more affordable cheese.

  51. Government cheese? Sounds like communism to me!

  52. That was the best cheese especially melted

  53. I loved that cheese, I wish I could get my hands on some today.

  54. 9:28 – He's putting his bare hand into the stream of hose-fed cheese for no reason whatsoever.

  55. CNBC, Cheddar, and Vox videos look very similar now!

  56. wtf its real?!? I thought it was an expression (Not from america btw).

    lololol I just thought it meant that the government was cheesing you with BS.

  57. Woah woah woah. Slow your boat. Before you can talk about that, we need to talk about how Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart are cooking together in the first place.

  58. Shhh…don't tell nobody but…white people love cheese!

  59. but nope.. that's not socialism…

  60. Oh What I would give for a old school brick of Guv'ment cheese!!!!!! The only one good thing that rich people didn't get to enjoy on a regular basis. Made the best Mac n cheese and the best grilled cheese known to mankind!!

  61. Beggars can't be choosers

  62. They cashed the checks. No sympathy.

  63. Kids really need sodium and potassium, calcium and magnesium. They sweat a lot when playing and getting electrolytes back is important.

  64. I still buy velveeta once in a while. I like to mix it into chili and use that as a prtilla chip dip.

  65. I don't even like cheese

  66. Don't forget all military MRE's contain government cheese.

  67. Where can I get one? Or two or three. I'm from the Philippines

  68. Yeah bros government cheese was totally good 0mg 😄!

  69. Government takes your tax money to purchase product you do not need at price higher than market and than gives you this product for free. That sounds like healthy market economy to me.

  70. Nothing beats Tillamook Cheese!

  71. from what I read in the comments there is a certain demand for gvt cheeso. Americans eat a lot of cheese in blocks. In my country cheese milk and youghurt are subsidized by the EU for schools and elderly homes. same thing. And we do maffia trade with milk power in Africa.

  72. Ghee or clarified butter is the real solution. It can be stored with NO REFRIGERATION. IT WILL LAST FOR YEARS. IT IS POSITIVELY THE MOST VALUABLE MILK PRODUCT EVER. (A person can be revived from a coma with 10 year old ghee!) IT PROMOTES good health, and if you ever taste anything made with ghee or clarified butter or deep fry with it, you are in heaven. Please research, and share and open your mind to this idea. It is fabulous.

  73. I didn’t know I wasn’t watching Vox until someone told me in the comments.

  74. I wish we could buy that cheese though 🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️🤷🏽‍♀️

  75. Government cave cheese

  76. Make Mozzarella with it.. Americans love that cheese. I don't know anyone that would not want 5lbs of free Mozzarella, just look at the way we eat from Pizza to string cheese. Mozz is king!

  77. WAIT! Kraft cheese is CANADIAN CHEESE?

  78. True corp. welfare for the rich

  79. I want cheese now

  80. Best grilled cheese EVER!

  81. Sucks for everyone in the world but NATIVES i still get 2 blocks of government cheese a month, commodies is so much better than food stamps, come to the reservation ill sell ya a block for 20 bucks

  82. Is that post malone?

  83. 6:02 Reagan is like: "I haz cheese for you lower class freaks. Oh, and your food stamps are gone. The answer is GOVERNMENT CHEESE!!"

  84. This is where my income taxes are going? Governments making bad economic decisions? WTF.

  85. it looks like velveta

  86. I grew up on Gov. cheese. I was born in 1973 and grew up in the 80's and loved the cheese. My uncle and grandma used to make the best mac n cheese with the big block of cheese we got from the gov. I used to tussle with cutting it, when it got hard as a brick. lmaoo It's nostalgic for me… ^_^

  87. There's also a tendency to alternative milk, like almond milk, personally I love it.

  88. and to think that, last year, Trump attacked the Canadian "Supply Management Program" in the dairy industry as some evil "socialist" program…LOL
    The US invented the practice 40 years before the Canadian system was implemented (1970)…. the Canadian program NEVER buys any product!!! It simply regulates supply.
    Next, CNBC should do a video on the sugar industry in the US….just more of the same.

  89. Government cheese and canned beef or pork was awesome.

  90. I'm trying to dry age my block of goverment cheese

  91. No wonder President Reagan is an Icon! 😂

  92. Best grilled cheese ever.

  93. send them to iran.. make them fat!!!

  94. I remember it making me constipated. 😩

  95. And big agribusiness have figured out how to use the subsidies to farmers to subsidize their businesses at the expense at farmers.

  96. I miss government cheese! It had so much more flavor than Velveeta. Grilled cheese, cheesy beefy macaroni, omelets, cheesy beef tacos. Beef was cheap too back then, so it was very practical and filled you up!

  97. So American cheese comes from an canadian guy. Nice

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