Cheese Caves

This cheese is not a cheese of honor.
No highly esteemed cheese is commemorated here.
No valued cheese is here.
What cheese is here is dangerous and repulsive to us.

Cheese Caves and Food Surpluses: Why the U.S. Government currently stores 1.4 billion lbs of cheese:

Hundreds of feet below the ground in Missouri, there are hundreds of thousands of pounds of American cheese. Deep in converted limestone mines, caves kept perfectly at 36 degrees Fahrenheit store stockpiles of government-owned cheese comprising the country's 1.4 billion pounds of surplus cheese. [...]

The government set a new policy to subsidize dairy, providing two billion dollars to the industry over the next four years. While this plan was welcome to dairy farmers, it also primed them for overproduction.

Farmers who had been struggling were motivated to produce as much dairy as they could, knowing that whatever was not sold on the market could likely be purchased by the government, and it was. By the early 1980s, the government owned over 500 million pounds of cheese. The reason the dairy product was converted to cheese was because it has a longer shelf life than other dairy products as the government searched for solutions to the problem it had created. [...]

Though demand is declining, production is not. It has risen 13% since 2010. In 2016, the American dairy industry dumped a whopping 43 million gallons of milk into fields, animal feed, and anaerobic lagoons. Though this waste is staggering, it is also not representative of the size of the surpluses being run by dairy farms. The dairy industry received 43 billion and 36.3 billion dollars in 2016 and 2017, respectively, from the federal government. In 2018, 42% of revenue for U.S. dairy producers came from some kind of government support.

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26 Responses:

  1. Elusis says:

    At least Reagan gave it away to needy families (like mine). Try that today and you'd have rabid hordes of anti-maskers foaming at the mouths over giving people "freebies" and "subsidizing laziness."

  2. davel says:

    The US may be poorly stocked for a lot of emergency situations, but it does have 2.6 trillion fat calories under its belt.

  3. Topaz says:

    But is it good cheese, and can I have some.

    • davel says:

      Yes, if you’re poor. My grandmother got the Gov’t Cheese when I was a kid. I was too young to have a credible palate though, so I can’t speak to the quality.

      • xtyn says:

        I also had government cheese as a child, and later as an adult working in a subsidized kitchen. It was entirely cheeselike (unlike cheese food product), but I wouldn't recommend it to someone with a well-developed palate.

  4. Zygo says:

    Billions of years from now, when alien xenoarcheologists visit the cold, dead cinders that remain of our solar system, they're gonna fire impactor probes into the surfaces of assorted objects to examine the transmission spectra of the debris plume, as you do when you have a bunch of impactor probes and scientists with nothing better to do but to lob them at passing rocks...and one of them reading the instrument readouts will look up and exclaim, "Captain! You won't believe what this moon is made of!"

  5. Michael Sternberg says:

    So, is that cheeseberg meant to be a little or a lot?

    The U.S. cheese consumption is:

    35.17 lb/person/yr (pounds per person per year) (2013 estimate) (world rank: 22nd)

    That means we're talking roughly 4.5 pounds of cheese per US inhabitant, or about 7 weeks worth, for scale.

    The organization behind the blurb does seem to have laudable goals, and in the context of distributing food to needy people that amount of cheese sure is "a lot".

    I have no such difficulties, however, deciding about the amount of spilled milk touted here, coming to a whopping 1 pint per US inhabitant, per the specific year 2016. Why make that much noise about it? Clearly, I'm not in public relations. It's worth asking then: Cui bono?

    • Pat says:

      If it's surplus, then it was produced without considering actual market demand. If production has been increasing, despite the clear market signal that there's currently too much, then the government is subsidizing bad behavior. Those subsidies can be rerouted to better uses, like medical care for children or some other net positive. But that would require bringing attention to the problem, and that's probably the main goal of the article. A difference of kind, not degree.

  6. Krisjohn says:

    Last year the government paid me twenty grand not to grow corn

    • nate says:


      10 kids in a cadillac
      Stand in line for welfare checks
      Let's all leach off the state
      Gee! the money is really great!

      Soup lines
      Free loaves of bread
      5lb blocks of cheese
      Bags of groceries
      Social security
      Has run out on you and me
      We do whatever we can
      We all gotta duck, when the shit hits the fan

  7. db48x says:

    As stupid as most government subsidies are, at least this one is paying for the cheese. That puts it miles ahead of the National Raisin Reserve which simply seized raisins whenever it wanted to. That was finally ruled unconstitutional in 2015, and it was shut down:

  8. Karellen says:

    The great state of VermontMissouri will not apologise for its cheese!

  9. cmt says:

    If in doubt, you could always learn from history:

  10. Eric says:

    Nobody ever said it would be easy being cheesy.

  11. Honestly, the main thing that bothers me about this is that we can find money for a cheese reserve, but we killed the National Helium Reserve--which is a hell of a lot more important (Helium has important industrial uses and is very limited in supply)--because of the cost.

    • jwz says:

      It is important to note that this Cheese Labyrinth is not a "Strategic Reserve" in the sense of the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, to be released into the world in the case of an international Maple Syrup Emergency. No, they are stockpiling this cheese not as a hedge against some future cheese-based catastrophe, but only because the dairy lobbyists have had a grift running for almost half a century whose function is the transfer of money from taxpayers to corporate investors, but whose unintended side effect is the production of a lot of unneeded milk.

      The Invisible Hand, having written, moves on.

  12. squabbled says:

    You can't get a graphics card, cream cheese, or a Raspberry Pi, but you can buy all the cheese you want.

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