The American Cheese Society: From Michael Pollan to Michael Taylor in Four Years – Building a Wall of Ignorance
“Our food system depends on consumers’ not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring – to the carelessness of both producers and consumers. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds.” Pollan, Michael, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Penguin Press, New York, 2006 at 245.
Just when you think there may be a ray of hope that people in general are waking up, some little event occurs that makes you shake your head in disgust. Such an event makes you wonder whether there is truly a gradual awakening or, in reality, that humanity is merely marching lock step like lemmings into the sea of oblivion.
Like the Borg in Star Trek, Big Government and Big Agriculture appear to be travelling through the universe assimilating all who come in contact with them – turning them into mindless “units.” Collectivism at its apex. This was made clear to me the summer of 2014 when I received a blast email from ACS (The American Cheese Society, of which I have been a member since 2009) that “Mike” Taylor was going to be at the annual conference in Sacramento, California, to “discuss” the future of the dairy industry as related to the FDA. This is quite an interesting transition since, in the summer of 2010, when the ACS annual conference was held in Seattle, Washington, noted food author and activist Michael Pollan was the keynote speaker. I consider Michael Pollan the anti-Michael Taylor, hence, the title of this piece. Parenthetically, I find it interesting that ACS is on a first name basis with “Mike” Taylor. Referring to Michael Taylor as “Mike” is analogous to stating that “B.L.” will be there (as in Beelzebub) to discuss your possible future in eternity. But more about that later.
I started making cheese in 2009. Our small artisan cheese company was also established in 2009. During the summer of 2009, early in my cheese making days, I was urged by a colleague to register for and attend the annual American Cheese Society conference, which, that year was scheduled to occur in Austin, Texas. Since I live in Texas, it seemed like a good idea to travel down to Austin to attend this three-day event and get a bird’s eye view of the workings of this trade group.
When I arrived at the conference, I found that I was surrounded by cheese makers and cheese people from all over the country (and many from outside of the country). It was everything cheese and it was great! I met great folks who were passionate about cheese. The keynote speaker at that conference was Jim Hightower, a fellow Denisonian, who presented a talk on the idea of “going local” and trusting your food system to your own community and your own self rather than trusting your food system to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington who are clueless about food and clueless about proper nutrition. My takeaway from my very first ACS conference in 2009 was that I had found a home among kindred spirits.
The American Cheese Society was founded in 1983 by Dr. Frank Kosikowski of Cornell University. In 1966, Dr. Kosikowski originally published a treatise on cheese and cheese making which still serves as the cheese making “Bible” for cheese makers. The American Cheese Society’s original mission was to be a “national grassroots organization for cheese appreciation and for home and farm cheese making.” If you take a look at the ACS website under “History,” you will see that the first annual meeting was held at Cornell University with some 150 attendees “made up of small-scale and home cheese makers, retailers, academics and cheese enthusiasts.” Ah, those were the days . . . I don’t know whether you noticed or not, but among the pioneers of ACS back in those days, there is no mention of government bureaucrats being part of the program.
In 2010, the annual ACS conference was held in Seattle, Washington. I decided to take my son, Matt, with me since he had become our lead cheese maker. I was hoping to grow a small artisan cheese business with which I could get other family members involved. ACS was still to some degree there for the artisan cheese makers and I wanted Matt to have the chance to meet some of the other cheese makers in the business. That year, Michael Pollan, author of the The Omnivore’s Dilemma and commentator on the documentary Food, Inc. (Robert Kenner, Magnolia Pictures, 2008), was the keynote speaker. I had read some of Michael Pollan’s books and I was on board with the concept of taking our food system back to the local level. In fact, as my grandpa was one of the greatest “green thumb” farmers I ever knew, I grew up on locally raised farm fresh food, from vegetables and fruits, to diary, beef and chicken and I yearned for us to get back to sustaining ourselves sans a petroleum based Big Ag system walking hand in hand with a nanny government.
If you watched Food, Inc., you may recall a segment that discusses the “revolving door” between Big Business (in this case Big Agriculture) and Big Government. One of the stars of that segment is Michael Taylor, current “Food Czar” of the FDA. (I love that term, “Czar”, I mean, what is this, Russia?). Michael Taylor is a lawyer who has been in and out of Big Government over the years. Prior to his current stint with the FDA, he was with the USDA. (It seems these folks just can’t get enough at the trough). Anyway, while at the USDA, he was responsible for authoring and passing through a regulation that did not require food manufacturers to label any food items that contained genetically modified organisms. Why? Well, because this GMO stuff is “substantially similar” to the real thing, according to a lawyer named “Mike” Taylor. “Substantially similar” is a legal term of art that is derived from utilizing a form of pretzel logic to get the government to say, “Well, I guess it’s okay then.” In reality, the convoluted logic to get you from point A to point B is similar to asserting that Frankenstein of lore was substantially similar to a live human being. Close enough for government work, right.
Anyway, while in the private sector, Taylor was with the law firm that represented Monsanto in patenting rBGH, a growth hormone that is injected into big commercial dairy cows to propagate higher milk production. You see, Big Dairy sells white liquid by the pound, so if they can get it watered down via this artificial growth hormone, they are all for it since watering it down increases its weight. That’s pretty much what rBGH does, just promotes more water retention in the milk. Parenthetically, in Texas, if your dairy inspector catches you adding water from your faucet to your milk, you could get your dairy permit pulled. On the other hand, if you can figure out a way to get that extra water into the milk via the cow, then, well, that’s okay. Anyway, I am getting off into the weeds here — and that’s the subject of another story.
Over the years, I attended the ACS annual conferences held in Montreal, Canada in 2011, Raleigh, North Carolina in 2012, and Madison, Wisconsin in 2013. I noticed each year that more and more time was taken up at the conference dealing with regulatory issues and regulators. What does the FDA think about this? What does the FDA think about that? We have to learn to “work with” these folks, etc., etc. Concomitantly with this, I also noticed that the big players in the cheese industry were becoming more and more prominent with ACS. Additionally, mega-global outfits like Whole Foods, as a retailer, and large cheese distribution conglomerates, were throwing more and more money at the organization and exerting more and more influence over the agenda. You know how it is, start throwing money at someone or some entity, and you are 1) likely to get their undivided attention and 2) with time, likely to take over the conversation. My growing concern as I observe the American Cheese Society year by year is that the Big Boys have pretty much taken it over, and with the Big Boys come their Big Government cronies. And what that spells is that they are always going to advocate regulating us little guys to death, literally.
Fast forward to the ACS Conference that was held this past August in Sacramento, California. Lord “Mike” Taylor was slated to be there to discuss the “future” of the dairy industry as related to the FDA (a bright future no doubt if you are big; a not so bright future if you are a small artisan producer). I don’t know about you, but I do not want the guy who pushed through no labeling requirements for GMO, the guy who ushered in the concept that GMOs are “substantially similar” to the real thing, the guy who aided and abetted Monsanto’s patenting of rBGH, the guy who is Big Ag and Big Dairy all the way, the guy whose law firm financially benefits from Big Ag and Big Dairy only – I do not want this guy telling me whether raw milk and raw milk cheese is unsafe to consume and whether aging cheese on wood is dangerous based on his junk science.
By the way, in June 2014, less than three months ago, a story broke that the FDA was planning to ban aging cheese on wood. I would like to point out that cheese has been aged on wood for thousands of years. Most, if not all, of the European Cheeses that are considered artisan cheeses, are aged on wood. Most, if not all, of the artisan cheeses made in the US are aged on wood. Most importantly, I know of absolutely no illnesses that have been reported in the last 50 years that directly point to aging cheese on wood as the cause of said illness.
Which begs this question: Which clueless, technically challenged, don’t-ask-any- questions airhead would issue such a statement that would indicate that the FDA is planning to ban aging cheese on wood? Monica Metz. Okay. Who is Monica Metz? Monica Metz is the FDA “Dairy Safety Chief.” (You’ve got to love it . . . Czar, Chief. I mean – are these folks on some kind of power trip or what?). Anyway, Monica Metz, one of Michael Taylor’s flying monkeys with the FDA, is, you guessed it, a former Laprino Foods employee (Laprino Foods is one of those “Big” guys I’ve been talking about). You can bet your boots that Laprino Foods does not age its commodity cheese on wood.
Here’s the real “problem” with aging cheese on wood. The big commodity cheese makers cannot age cheese on wood because of their production system and their infrastructure. In addition, they do not care about the nuances of taste created by aging well-made cheeses on wood. Finally, why bother, since the commodity cheese they make is just that, commodity cheese. So, what we end up with is the Big Boys wanting to lower the bar down to their level of commodity cheese making rather than raising the bar to the level of artisanal cheese making quality. Of course, they could just shut up and keep making their commodity cheese and leave us small folks alone to make our hand made artisanal cheeses and offer the cheese consumer the choice. But that’s not how the Big Cheeses want to play. They want to influence their government cronies to regulate us little guys out of the market with their constant barrage of regulations aimed at shadows and phantoms and alleged microbes of mass destruction (MMD’s), all in an industry that, according to the government’s own CDC data, carries one of the lowest per capita incidences of all reported food borne illnesses. By the way, you may recall that some other government agency is still over in the middle east looking for WMD’s . . .
Folks, they think you are either totally asleep or totally stupid because the government exhibits nothing but contempt for you. They violate the Constitution on a daily basis right in front of your eyes (in plain view) and no one appears to either pay attention to this or give a damn one way or the other. As long as they can metaphorically walk in your front door and steal you blind and spoon feed you toxic food while you sit there on your couch watching sports, reality shows, game shows, etc., why should they stop doing it?
My first question is this: How can a bunch of clueless bureaucrats with a political agenda who are professional government workers ever be qualified to determine what is best for me to eat? Short answer, they cannot.
Next question: How long are we going to buy into the worn down, worn out, beaten dead horse, never ending mantra that all of this is just “to make our food system safer . . . it’s for your own good . . . we know what is best for you . . . shut up and do what we tell you?
Next question: How could we ever be so stupid to actually believe that some safety magic happens by virtue of a politically motivated regulation coming from an unchecked and unbridled fourth branch of government whose main purpose is to dutifully aid and abet the whims and desires of the Big Mega Want-it- All Corporations?
Finally: How long are we going to continue to defer our decision making regarding food and our choices regarding food to a cluster of bureaucratic idiots?
If you do not answer these questions for yourself very soon, your government is going to answer them for you and you may not like the answer provided for you.
As Ben Franklin said, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
Please, folks: Wake up and smell the cheese!
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com