Saturday, September 8, 2007

American Cheese Represents Everything Wrong With Our Country

Back in the day, I used to really love American Cheese. I was soft and yellow and I love how malleable it was. I used to try and see how many times I could fold the slices, creating tiny squares that I could put on my pre-pubescent tongue and feel them melt. Part of the reason was that my father used to eat them too, a dozen or so Kraft singles at a time. We would watch the evening news on the bed together, pulling apart pieces of cheese or eating the slices all at once.

Now, I've graduated to eating better kinds of cheese, French, Italian, Spanish, English, all the great cheeses of Europe. It's not an act of anti-American feeling, I enjoy cheddar cheese from Vermont and Cream Cheese as well. But I will not touch American cheese, will only eat it out of desperation, or in a dare. When I think back to how much I used to eat of it, I get sick. My Father has stopped his regimen of Kraft singles too, mostly for health reasons.

When I look at it, I cannot but help to look at the name of the product. Most cheeses are given regional names, but here is one that has a national moniker. That attaches all sorts of images and ideologies to a simple slice of cheese. One might be able to transcend the regional implications of a cheese, but national ones are harder. Eating American cheese is the patriotic thing to do, it is a unifying bond that holds all of our grilled cheese sandwiches together.

But naming a cheese after a country also makes you see the downside of it. All the negative facts can become symbolized. France avoids this problem with 400 different kinds of cheese. No one can hold one up and say, "this Brie shows us how we are failing as a nation." Because then somebody can hold up a Roquefort and challenge the assertion. But when you have "American" cheese, you cannot but think of America. I know that how they sell slices.

You see in American cheese a miracle of modern science of mass production. There is no miraculous feeling in eating it, but it comes to you regular and without any frills, just like our elections. Constant and always present, yet never exciting. It has great uniformity of taste, which leaves it without any sense of distinction. It is bland and every piece is like the other, just like the suburbs of this country. Save for the flora and fauna, you could pretty much go to any suburb and not know where you are (unless you see a Waffle House).

It does nothing to offend. It has no bitterness, no sharpness, it contains no smoky flavor, or crumbling texture. There is nothing to object to, except the lack of things to find fault with. It is an angelic cheese, once that is alien to everything about the world. It contains no impurities of field or cave, from wooden vat or leather case. It was conceived in a laboratory, born in a factory, living on a shelf after being taken there by a truck. The air was never allowed to touch it. It is isolated, it is alone. It likes to think of itself as pure and that is why it is disliked, but in reality, it is because it is a boring cheese to know.