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From Great Depression to Got Milk: Untangling the History of Government Cheese

Popular “Don’t Be A Tourist” blogger Messy Nessy has plunged into the history of the United States government cheese program which dates back to the Great Depression as part of the New Deal. The program, aimed at aiding struggling farmers and providing food assistance to low-income individuals, purchased surplus dairy products—particularly cheese—to stabilize agricultural prices and distribute food to those in need.

Government cheese became an iconic symbol of government intervention in agriculture and the fight against hunger during tough economic times:

“As young children, none of us had cooking experience, but we decided to make grilled cheese sandwiches anyway.”—Tracey Lynn Lloyd reminisces on Government Cheese grilled cheese sandwiches here.

Recognizable by its distinctive packaging labeled “Government Cheese,” it was distributed through community centers, schools, and food banks and peaked in the 1980s. Today, while less prominent, government cheese continues to be part of emergency food assistance programs and food banks.

During the Reagan administration, dairy farmers pivoted marketing efforts for milk overproduction to a campaign you may have heard of: Got Milk?

Mallory Scyphers

Mallory Scyphers is culture's Executive Content Director and has been with the company since 2019. She lives on Mobile Bay with her husband, two young daughters, one old Shetland Sheepdog, one rambunctious golden retriever, and one calico cat. Her favorite cheeses are alpine styles and mineral-y blues.

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