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My Country Tis of Cheese

Of all the domestic issues the presidential candidates debated last night, the one that evokes the most passion within me continues to be avoided: If we want to achieve success as a nation, we need to work on our branding. Starting with cheese.

America, you are better than American cheese. In fact, I hate your cheese. It’s not actually cheese at all.

A look at all the processed cheese that is killing you.

This cheese is killing me.

While my distaste for the plastic-wrapped “single” cheese product dates back to my discovery of actual cheese, my recent fury is inspired by a string of breakfast-sandwich mishappenings.

New York City is the mecca of sandwich. Our delis promise succulent possibilities between two slices of bread or halves of the bagel. In all their griddle glory, breakfast sandwiches are an NYC morning comfort food. Even Our Lady of Domesticity Martha Stewart shares a recipe on her website for a “New York Deli-Style” sandwich.

The infamous “egg and cheese” – or “bacon, egg, and cheese” if you swing that way – is a simple art consisting of two components: 1) the namesake or soul of the sandwich, egg and cheese 2) a main carbohydrate group in which to envelope said inners – bread, roll, or bagel. On special occasions, there are enough free seconds in the morning commute to request the addition of a plant-derived element, like tomato, onion, or avocado (the latter being saved for fancy days).

organic cheese product package

Look closer: “Organic American Singles” or “Pasteurized Cheese Product”

While I’d estimate myself to be a bi-monthly breakfast sandwichier (pronounced “sand-wi-shay”), I have learned that local sandwich artists consider egg and cheese to contain American not-cheese by default.

“I am programmed to specify my cheese to avoid such an incident,” says fellow New Yorker Emily, who rates her sandwich knowledge in the top 1 percent.

Since Kraft Singles and the like are not legally allowed to be called “cheese,” I question how establishments get away with serving them on a product called “egg and cheese.” Just look at the packaging – nowhere does it say “cheese.” It has to be sold as “cheese product,” even if it’s claiming to be organic.

After two sandwiches at two separate locations were served to me with American cheese, despite my overemphasis on the word “cheddar,” I put on my thinking cap. Maybe if I asked for a differently colored cheese, they wouldn’t make the same mistake. That theory proved wrong when provolone turned up as a greasy, melty blob atop my egg that New Yorker Jessica calls “a disturbing shade somewhere between orange and salmon-colored.”

If I get a sandwich with American cheese, I won’t eat it. This is where I draw the line. How can I eat something that’s distinguishable from its packaging only by color?

I’m not alone in my thinking, as a school in Tucson caught onto this sentiment in 2010 upon banning American cheese.

To prove that American cheese is a devilish substance that is slowly killing us all (and to validate my feelings), I conducted a focus group, interviewing a select group of omnivorous friends. Members of this group hailed from such varying locales as: Jackson, Tennessee; Columbia, Maryland; St. Ignace, Michigan; and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. All now live in major cities.

I went into this exercise expecting feedback like “it reminds me of my childhood.” After all, it wasn’t uncommon to open a fridge in my grade-school days and see that shiny red, white and blue logo adorning the bottom shelf. Everyone I knew ate low-fat Kraft Singles as children. And margarine. Before we realized that food-like substances and hydrogenation were the enemy, we steered clear of saturated fat.

I’m proud to say that my friends have embraced whole foods. Interviewee Mitch replied to my inquiry: “This might be the greatest email anyone has ever sent me. My bathroom book is the Cheese Lover’s Companion.”

Mitch noted: “I hate Kraft Singles.” When asked to describe the cheese, he claimed, “American cheese is made of the convoluted beliefs of the Midwest.”

But even Midwestern-raised Emily concurred that American cheese is “not real food.”

Bay-Area resident Shannon is a native of Tennessee, where Velveeta flows like water – but she turns her nose up at calling it “cheese.” “It is the equivalent of calling Cool Whip the same thing as whipped cream, which could not be further from the truth.”

The truth is that consumers continue to buy legally regulated not-cheese, often because it’s what the government provides. Perhaps therein lies the real problem, which is a whooooole other story. I urge us all to band together as a country and just say “no” to American cheese.


Law and Disorder

Dear citizens of New York City, you can all rest assured tonight knowing that your tax dollars are being put to good use. In order to keep potential evil-doers away from children, the city is now giving court summons to anyone seen in a playground without a child. And instead of letting said offenders pay a fine, they are required to go to court and use the city’s resources for hours on end, only to pay a $25 fine and leave.

I lived in Baltimore for three years, and let me tell you – for a place that inspired “The Wire,” (which, yes, is an accurate depiction*) its Department of Parking is nestled on the efficiency scale between the near-infinite-yet-brisk-line at any NYC Whole Foods and a German-engineered automobile. In other words, a city whose law enforcement can’t control its homicide rate invests a suspicious amount of resources in ensuring your car will be egregiously ticketed and/or towed if you are nine seconds late to feed your meter/move your vehicle.

Such backwards practices manifest themselves differently in New York, where I was issued a court summons at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon for sitting in a playground without a minor present. In New York, there is a difference between a park and a playground, the latter being a location that only welcomes those over 18 when accompanied by those under 18. In other words, if you are looking for a green space to eat your lunch after being trapped in a windowless office, you’re safer loitering outside a business next to a pan-handler. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t quote me.

I’m all about protecting the children. But the fact that I was accosted in the middle of the afternoon by two police officers who pulled me and a five-foot tall college student who was waiting in the park to meet her client, a nine-year old boy with autism, is not helping anyone. There was a regulation we were not aware of, and while it seems ridiculous, I understand. We were not given a warning, despite being confused as to why we were in trouble – we were simply written up a court summons and told that we had to appear.

Perhaps the two officers had nothing better to do, like catch an actual criminal? I mean, didn’t they realize that I had to use a whole personal day to go to court? GOSH.

The night before my court date, I spent a long time picking out my most Mature and Responsible-Looking Outfit. I pondered such questions as:┬áCan I bring a gym bag to court? Is there a coat check? If I was already going to be downtown, I’d want to get a workout in.

When I got in line, I was appalled to see that out of the thirtysome people waiting outside – including those who failed to put their dogs on leashes, jaywalkers and those in parks after sunset – I was overdressed. Well, me and the Young Republican standing behind me, both of us schvitzing in our suit jackets.

I spent three hours waiting in awful florescent lighting, only to approach the judge’s bench and be told that I could plead guilty and pay a $25 fine.

“What does pleading guilty mean? Will I have a record?” I asked the judge, a dead-ringer for Colonel Sanders.

“Oh of course not,” he replied, laughing (laughing? In court?). “It’s not a criminal offense. You could plead guilty and still run for Senate.”

So, the city needs money and the police officers have to fill their ticket quota. Fine. But why not just give out a ticket, let “offenders’ plead guilty by mail and send in a check? I don’t think the streets are any safer, and I can’t imagine how many resources were wasted on this.

On the plus side, I made a friend – we’ll call him Jim – who asked what I was doing in court. I told him I was in a park without a child. “But you’re a woman,” he said. “I know, right?” I replied, totally getting where he was coming from. (Of all times to be given an equal opportunity, couldn’t the fact that having a vagina makes me less likely to steal a child work for me JUST THIS ONCE?) Jim wore a stained, oversized t-shirt and a pair of pants big enough for a family of four. He was contesting a ticket for possessing an open container – but like me, he was “targeted and set up.” Before we parted ways, I wanted to tell him that maybe it would be in his best interest to remove his backwards baseball hat. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so I kept it to myself.

*I have never seen “The Wire,” but this lie is much more of a crowd-pleaser.