I first read about checkoff programs—a marketing initiative by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase domestic or international demand for an agricultural product—a couple of months ago. The agency levies a small fee on the product and uses it to promote by-products. With milk, the USDA is promoting cheese consumption. Think of all the milk and cheese ads you’ve seen. That said, the USDA spends millions of dollars to boost pizza consumption. About 350 slices of pizza are sold every second. And this doesn’t take into account the pizzas we are making at home—frozen or fresh.
I can see how the agency chooses to ride this coattail by adding more cheese to pizzas—we’re already eating it. In 2009, when sales were dipping and surveys showed the chain to have the worst-tasting pies, Domino’s Pizza teamed up with Dairy Management to create a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese—translation, more fat! Did you know that one slice of Domino’s Pizza equates to as much as two-thirds of our daily recommended amount of saturated fat? And contrary to what you may think, Dairy Management is not a private consulting company—it’s a marketing subsidiary of the USDA. That’s right, the same people who are at the forefront of the anti-obesity movement are saying, “Here, have another slice.”
I can already see my husband giving me the stink-eye. He is a self-proclaimed pizza connoisseur whose dream job is to travel around the globe eating pizza. But the truth is, we don’t need any more pizza. According to the National Association of Pizza Operators, we’re already consuming 23 pounds of pizza each year. While the pizza stimulus is great for dairy farmers, why couldn’t the USDA find a healthier dairy campaign, like those “Milk does a body good” commercials starring Tiffani Amber Theissen circa 1993? I’d much rather my daughter admire a healthy-looking, non-anorexic, successful actress or athlete than extreme close-ups of an overloaded cheese-stuffed crust that clearly illustrates what clogged arteries look like, now that I think about it.
Heart health in mind, and determined to find a commercial that’s an ode to fruit and vegetable farmers, I came across two: Tropicana orange juice and Hidden Valley dressing—yes, something highly caloric to dip your veggies into. But where is the stimulus plan that tells Americans to eat their greens? Where is the collaborative effort to amp vegetable consumption across the nation? One that outlines the First Lady’s movement that encourages a healthier diet? Apparently it’s smothered in cheese.