I recently saw a commercial for Kraft American Singles that was shocking to me. Some of the copy in the spot included “This is America and this is our cheese.” Another statement was “Only in America could we make this cheese.” All I could say was wow.
My first thought, and the point of this post, was that American Cheese represents all that is soulless about American food manufacturing. Kraft is touting a highly-mechanized, plastic-looking product that includes wasteful packaging as emblematic of America. Over 230 years of dynamic national history and pride reduced to an orange processed cheese product.
I’ve watched a lot of episodes of Unwrapped on the Food Network, which shows how processed most American food is, but I have never seen a show about American Cheese singles. I don’t think I would want to see a cheese-related liquid rolled out in sheets or poured in molds, or some other manufacturing process to make these singles. As it turns out, “these ‘slices’ are actually individually poured onto each plastic wrapper and then set to emulsify.”
I did an internet search on American Cheese. According to Wikipedia, the first use of the term American Cheese was used by the British as a derogatory term to refer to what they thought of as inferior Cheddar Cheese made in the former colonies. The term took on a new meaning once James L. Kraft patented cheese processing in 1916 to stop the aging and spoiling of cheese. According to American Heritage, “Kraft stormed the consumer market with an advertising barrage that gave cheese one of its first recognizable brand names. By 1930 more than 40 percent of all the cheese consumed in the United States carried the Kraft label.”
Further inquiry into this quintessential American product yields the government regulation surrounding the terms that can be applied to various forms of processed cheese. Again, from Wikipedia:
In the United States processed cheese is defined, categorized, and regulated by the Food & Drug Administration under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (Food and Drugs), Section 133 (Cheeses and Cheese Related Products). Pasteurized process cheese can be made from a single cheese or a blend of several cheeses. Cream, milkfat, water, salt, artificial color, and spices may also be added. The mixture is heated with an emulsifier, poured into a mold, and allowed to cool. The definitions include:
- Pasteurized process cheese (100% cheese which includes “American Cheese” and “Pasteurized process American cheese”), (e.g., “Kraft Deli Deluxe American Cheese”, “Land o Lakes American Cheese”, “Laughing Cow”)
- Pasteurized process cheese food, which contains at least 51% cheese
- Pasteurized process cheese product which contain less than 51% cheese and cannot be advertised as cheese by the FDA (e.g. “Velveeta, “Kraft Singles”)
- Pasteurized process cheese spread (e.g. “Cheez Whiz”)
And drilling down into the processed cheese links more, I discover a product called Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC), an unregulated, non-food product imported from overseas that is taking the place of milk in many American singles. Now I’m not going to get into the family farm debate about this, but even the existence of the debate points to more things about this product that confirms Kraft’s statements in the commercial.
Due to a history of food processing, advertising expertise, government regulations and complex trade regulations, it turns out Kraft American Singles could only be made in America.