A long, long time ago, when American cheese was invented the name was used to distinguish it from European cheeses. American cheese artisians took great pride in challenging themselves to make the best products. The original American cheese was made with a mixture of real blended cheeses, Colby and Cheddar, and was sold in blocks in delis and supermarkets. It was preferred over regular cheddar cheese because it had a milder flavor, melted smoothly when heated unlike cheddar and was great on cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and for use in dips.
In 1878, The New York Times ran two articles, The Cheese all inspected and Lesson of a bit of cheese which listed the total export of American cheese at 355 million pounds per year, with an expected growth to 1,420 million pounds. The challenge during this era was that high quality American cheese was usually re-labeled under European names after export, with only low grade cheese would retain American labelling in Europe. The articles stated that even in the United States quality American cheese is often relabelled as Swiss, etc, and that this situation is a detrimental to the reputation of American cheesemakers. This practice may be in part responsible for the name "American cheese" being known as a bland, low quality cheese.
In the 1950's when convenience foods became popular and we began sacrificing quality for cheaper mass produced products, processed cheese slices became available commercially. Processed cheese took the name "American" and the American cheese product we know today was born.
The American cheese we see at our local grocers in the dairy section is not real cheese but is defined as pasturized process cheese; a blend of milk, milk fats and solids mixed with other fats, whey protein concentrates, sodium, the spice annato often used to create the coloring and other additives. No longer made with real blended cheeses, all the ingredients must still meet the legal definition of cheese, even if the final result is more cheese-like. This is why many American cheese products bear the title "cheese food" or "cheese product" on the packaging.
What does American cheese say about our evolution as a country? Originally we had amazing American cheese, blended with real cheeses. Then we exported our cheese product to Europe and allowed other countries to take credit for our craftmanship by relabeling our own high quality cheese with their labels. If that was not bad enough, they in turn labeled their own poor quality cheese, American just to harm our reputation. Who knew a block of cheese would foretell how other nations would continue to perceive our countries products- cheap and of poor quality.
Does American cheese reveal that we have lost our competitive edge to be the best and most innovative in the products we create, manufacture and develop? Surely the competitive edge still exists in America, just watch any NFL superbowl Sunday when the opposing team you are cheering for scores a touch down. If we could figure out a way to harness the thermo energy released from our competitive love for sports, we might possibly power an entire a city. Our country is boiling over with some of the most educated and intelligent minds, there is no reason why the United States should rank 28th in the world in terms of quality of life. Switzerland ranks number one and their secret for success is simple. The Swiss would never settle for anything less than real Swiss cheese, lest their be a revolution.
So why do we Americans settle for a radioactive, glow in the dark, processed cheese by product instead of real American cheese? Maybe we are too busy to notice that the American cheese slices being sold to us in the grocery store are an imposter and not the real thing. Perhaps we are too trusting of the manufacturers who make American cheese to provide us with a quality product. Just like we can be too trusting of our own government to manage our country properly without much effort or responsibility on our part. America was never meant for citizens to be on auto pilot, but for constant improvement, innovation and involvement in our Democracy.
Like our original American cheese made with a blend of real cheeses, do you ever wonder what happened to the products our country once produced? Toledo, Ohio was once the glass manufacturing capital of the United States, now their local economy is struggling to stay afloat. Detroit, Michigan was once the car capital of our country, now hovering on the edge of collapse and poverty because we choose as consumers to buy Honda, Toyota, Mercedes and Lexus for their quality products. Ironic really, that now we are the consumers of the automobiles we were once the great manufacturers of. Take a road trip across the midwestern part of the United States, each state with a different history in product production or manufacturing, many now deceased. One major result of the loss of our countries manufacturing power, is that poverty has become as American as American cheese. Especially since cheese slices are literally sold for a quarter less than minimum wage, and in our selfishness and lack of sharing, we expect the American family to survive on bread crumbs. The fact is, the more dependent we are on purchasing foreign imports, the poorer our country will be and the more our citizens and country will suffer. Common sense should tell us that it is better to be the man who holds the deed to the river than just a visiting fisherman. One is less dependent than the other. What kind of future do you envision for America? Some people envision millions of families living in their cars while they feast, others envision us working three jobs just to survive while they live off of our tax dollars, some even envision our military as a cheap labor force to build an oil pipeline. I'm not sure about you but that is not the quality of life I envision for American citizens.
Do you think in our quest for financial gain, we have sacrificed quality for cheap manufacturing or just plain greed? Money does not have to be more important than our international reputation or the lives of our soldiers. We should be ahead of the environmental capitalism movement, leading the way in solar, wind and water power advancements. Not tagging along like a kid forced to run a three mile race, huffing and puffing because he has never run before. Oil is an eight track tape mentality and we need to think ahead, invent ahead and beyond the iphone, ipod generation. None of which ideas include polluting the earth, until it is completely unhabitable. The last thing we need is more toxic nuclear power. One leak, and we will physically melt like red butter in the hot sun. No thanks, I will opt for more natural, earth friendly solutions. All of us possess the intelligence to think outside of the box and change our living habits. We need to remember that there was a time when quality in a name, the American name mattered to us. Manufacturing quality products, goods and services mattered to us. A good reputation meant everything. We took pride in American Made goods, in generating our own ideas, instead of importing cheap products from China or other countries. It is time to be the best at something other than entertainment and war; companies in American weapons manufacturing like Raytheon, Grumman, General Dynamics and Boeing Helicopter need to fade out of the spotlight like badly processed, imposter American cheese. We want a country not defined by bloodshed and death but by unlimited possibilities for peace, compassion, tolerance, understanding and education.
The slices of neon yellow, processed American cheese found in the grocery stores today do not represent the original intention of the product, they are not only toxic to our body but to our consciousness as a country. Give me swiss, give me colby jack, give me cheddar but do not sell or try to feed me fake processed cheese. I would rather use it as sticky tack to hang my Greenpeace poster on the wall. Just like our processed cheese, America needs a makeover. A chance to reinvent ourselves, our reputation and upgrade the quality of our products and our lives. In the process of collective community brainstorming, we can create new opportunities for a sustainable future and not be limited by our past mistakes. Redefining the goals of our country in terms of; energy, economics, education, medical coverage, immigration, politics, foreign policy, environment, expectations of leadership and the future of our government and Constitution. American cheese is just a small example of what can happen to the quality of our country if we do not shift towards a solution based consciousness and pay attention to new legislation that effects our quality of life. Please write your elected officials about the issues concerning our country and the changes you want to see implemented in your American cheese and otherwise.
Maybe if we can get back to our original American cheese, we can also recreate our country and international reputation.