The cheese has finally gone to our heads.
Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, has proposed a bill that would require all cheese served on state university campuses to come from Wisconsin cheesemakers.
Clearly, with the state facing a $652 million shortfall, what we need right now is to find ways to bloat UW System funding in the future. System policy already gives preference to Wisconsin cheese manufacturers, so unless there is some hitherto undiscovered Californian conspiracy to bribe UW school food buyers, this will come at some cost, and with little real benefit.
At first my nose thought it caught the sharp stench of the cheese lobby cashing in on an investment aged for decades in the basement of Mr. Smith?s campaign headquarters. But given the Eau Claire representative was elected in 2006 with a mere $600 from agricultural interests, it seems there must be a subtler agent at work. Nate Williams, an aide for Mr. Smith, said in a March 4 Badger Herald article the proposal has bipartisan support, so it must be the state?s wider culture that has brought about this rotten proposal.
Now, I fully admit I?m the outsider here as a Minnesota native, having learned early in my childhood the precise angle of the requisite disapproving headshake when Packer fans appear on TV. But while I don?t pretend to understand the appeal of wearing a foam yellow block on your head, I respect your right to do so.
Thus, I merely smiled bemusedly when Gov. Jim Doyle made a state product wager with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire over a Seahawks-Packers game in January, trash talking Washington?s heretical dairy offering with the quip, ?Wisconsinites don?t have a lot of occasion to eat canned cheese from the West Coast.? While I wonder how many hours the governor?s office clocked coming up with that one, at least the affair can be written off as nearly free publicity for an important state industry.
But when state pride turns to feel-good protectionism, I feel honor bound to expose the holes like so much Swiss.
As Mr. Smith?s office admits, no other Wisconsin product enjoys a cushy contract with UW schools, so what impetus other than fear of losing the cheese production title to California can we find in this proposal? But wait!
The bill is not just for cheesemakers? well-being, but students? too, as Mr. Smith?s aide stressed in the article. ?We also want to provide UW System with high-quality cheese that students would enjoy eating,? he said.
Well, I don?t know if Mr. Smith has ever stepped foot in a UW-Eau Claire cafeteria, but I have, and no amount of ?high-quality Wisconsin cheese? would make the broccoli cheddar quiche remotely edible.
Would every processed food that contains cheese be subject to this requirement? If so, I highly doubt the hundreds of items listed on the UW-Madison Housing website that have ?cheese? in their title would have easy fixes. A prominent ingredient in ?Wisconsin Cheese Soup? is Velveeta, which hails from the Garden State. Perhaps the bill, like the Food and Drug Administration, would call this a ?cheese food,? in which case I?m not sure many items on our campus menu would qualify under the mandate.
In short, if you want to support Wisconsin products, go to the Dane County Farmer?s Market, shop at a co-op or stop at Babcock Hall for a wealth of cheeses made right here on campus. But promoting local products takes a lot more effort ? and money ? than slapping some Hollandtown Gouda on a plate at a Board of Regents meeting.
Wear the cheesehead with pride, Wisconsin ? just as long as there?s a brain underneath.
Tim Williams ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in English.