Ah the USDA, one hand feeds us a message about reducing our saturated fat intake while the other hand feeds us a big, cheesy slice of pizza. Apparently a marketing arm of the USDA, Dairy Management, is working with fast food joints like Domino's to increase our consumption of cheese. Together they have cooked up a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese -- plus, Dairy Management is providing $12 million to advertise the pizza.
Look, I love cheese as much as the next lactose-tolerant person. But my first thought here wasn't oh my God why is the USDA pushing fatty foods on us?!? No, my first thought was oh really, how much real, domestically produced cheese is actually in these newly cooked-up fast foods? I suspect not much at all because that would be incredibly expensive.
So let's take an exciting journey into Fast Food Ingredients List Land!
Domino's Wisconsin 6 Cheese Pizza
430 calories and 12 grams saturated fat per serving (one-quarter of a medium thin-crust pie)
1. Cheddar Cheese: Pasteurized Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto (vegetable color), Powdered Cellulose Added to Prevent Caking, Natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor)
2. Feta Cheese: Pasteurized milk, Salt, Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Potato Starch (added to prevent caking)
3. Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese: Mozzarella Cheese (pasteurized milk, cultures, salt, enzymes), Modified Food Starch, Cellulose (added to prevent caking), Nonfat Milk, Whey Protein Concentrate, Flavors, Sodium Propionate (added as a preservative)
4./5. Parmesan-Asiago Cheese: Parmesan Hard Grating Cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, salt, cheese culture, enzymes, asiago (pasteurized milk, salt, cheese culture, enzymes), Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose (to prevent caking), Natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor)
6. Provolone Cheese (Shredded): Provolone Cheese (pasteurized milk, cultures, salt, enzymes), Nonfat Milk, Sodium Propionate (added as a preservative)
Okay Domino's, looks like real cheese to me, albeit with a lot of potato starch and preservatives thrown in. Also, only about 30 percent of the cheeses actually come from Wisconsin.
Burger King Tendercrisp chicken sandwich with American cheese slice and cheese sauce
940 calories, 15 grams saturated fat
1. American Cheese: Cultured Milk, Water, Cream, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Sodium Phosphate, Artificial Color, Enzymes, Acetic Acid, Lecithin. Artificial Colors may consist of one or more of the following: Annatto Extract, Beta‐Apo‐8'‐Carotenal, Beta‐Carotene, Canthaxanthin, Paprika Oleoresin, Tumeric Oleoresin. Contains: Soy Lecithin and Milk.
2. Smoky Cheese Sauce: soybean oil, water, egg yolks, contains less than 2% of salt, cheese powder (cheddar cheese [pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], whey, maltodextrin, natural & artificial flavors, butter [cream, salt], salt, buttermilk, disodium phosphate, autolyzed yeast extract), natural flavors (includes autolyzed yeast extract), distilled vinegar , sugar, lactic c acid, cultured cream, polysorbate 60, cream*(cream, non‐fat milk, soy lecithin), phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (as preservatives), maltodextrin, xanthan gum, autolyzed yeast extract, propylene glycol alginate, milk fat, natural extratives of annatto seed, artificial color, whey*, calcium disodium edta added to protect flavor, yellow #5 , onion*. *dehydrated
YIKES! This is based on the "Cheesy" version of the sandwich, no longer marketed as such but still available if you know to ask for the two slices of American cheese and the cheese sauce. Looks like this sandwich really helps farmers sell more ... corn and soybeans.
And finally ...
Taco Bell Steak Quesadilla
520 calories, 12 g saturated fat
Three Cheese Blend: Low Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Cultured Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto), Pasteurized Process Monterey Jack And American Cheese With Peppers [Monterey Jack And American Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Water, Cream, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Lactic Acid], Anti-Caking Agent. CONTAINS MILK Low Moisture Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Cultured Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Cheddar Cheese (Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto), Pasteurized Process Monterey Jack And American Cheese With Peppers [Monterey Jack And American Cheese (Cultured Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Water, Cream, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Jalapeno Peppers, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Lactic Acid], Anti-caking Agent. CONTAINS MILK *Will Contain One Of The Ingredient Statements Above, Depending Upon Regional Suppliers
Hmm, seems real-cheesy enough until you get to the jack and American cheese lists.
Overall the cheese ingredients for Taco Bell and Domino's weren't as horrifying as I predicted they would be, though a glance at the other ingredients -- what goes into the crust, for example -- is still scary enough to steer me away. What this doesn't tell you is how much of the cheese comes from giant dairy factories vs. small dairy farms, most likely all vs. none.
One final nugget: Dairy Management is funded by fees the USDA forces dairy farmers to pay. Here's a little gem from one of their reports:
Urged on by warnings about saturated fat, Americans have moved toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in a concerted effort to get it back into Americans' diets, primarily through cheese.
LOL American government, you're so funny with this "let them eat more saturated fat" business! Of course, many real food advocates like Nina Planck say saturated fat is the wrong culprit in obesity. As a non-obese person who drinks whole milk every day I also have to wonder -- but then, I'm not one of the 85 percent of parents who feed their kids fast food at least once a week. I think the obesity picture is more complicated than saturated fat.
What do you think? Should the US be pushing saturated fat to help the dairy industry?