For some Americans, there’s a certain sense of comfort that comes from eating a slice of American cheese. Its familiar, recognizable, and brings back vivid memories of childhood. While the quality and respectability of the cheese has been swept under the rug for years, it’s been no secret that American cheese isn’t a high-end product; we’ve just chosen not to talk about it. That is, until now.
On June 24, Tillamook Dairy Co-op launched a new campaign entitled “American Cheese is Un-American”, aiming to bring focus and attention to the real food vs. fake food dialogue just before July 4th weekend. The aim of the campaign is to obtain 100,000+ signatures on their petition, asking the White House to strip American Cheese of its “American” name. While the argument might seem to be a little kitschy at first, the people over at Tillamook have some good points. The FDA already does not allow companies to label American cheese as “cheese,” since it’s made with less than 51% real cheese and contain ingredients like sodium citrate, gelatin, and lactic acid. Because of this, American cheese commonly carries descriptions such as “processed cheese product,” “pasteurized cheese food,” or even “sandwich slices.” The question then becomes, as one of the top global exporters of cheese, why do we allow our namesake cheese to not only be the joke of the cheese world but not really cheese at all!
While Tillamook has definitely thought this through, what might be the most compelling part of the entire campaign is the artwork. Instead of using dry facts and quippy slogans to draw support, Tillamook took the clever route of using humor to bolster their campaign (which can only be a good thing when talking about a topic as “hard-hitting” as American cheese). In the visual ads, Tillamook called upon some of the greatest heroes in American history in order to get their point across. In one print, Betsy Ross is seen impaling cellophane-wrapped slices of processed cheese with her American flag–sweing needle while surfing on a teeth-bearing Great White Shark. In another print, George Washington rides horseback on a Bald Eagle as flames engulf American Cheese slices in the background.
But what might be the most effective visual piece is a stop-motion animation of Abraham Lincoln riding on the back of a Grizzly Bear whilst holding a sword that has skewered a few slices of American cheese. In the video, our 16th president delivers a convincing anti–American Cheese speech in which he makes the powerful statement, “Would our forefathers have allowed a processed cheese product to take our country’s name? No we wouldn’t have. And you shouldn’t either.” Abe makes a good point.
In addition to the visual components, Tillamook is offering its supporters a coupon this Fourth of July to take $1 off Tillamook Cheddar Slices. The July 4th weekend is an important one for cheese, as BIGresearch estimates that consumers will spend at least $6.2 billion on food for the holiday, including upwards of $86 million on cheese alone. In this way, the timing of the campaign couldn’t have been more apt. So which side are you on? Is there any harm in the name? Is the campaign going too far? If you’re on Tillamook’s side, let your voice be heard and sign their petition here. I for one will be printing out their Betsy Ross photo and hanging it above my bed. It’s just genius.