Why American cheese is evil

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Real, yummy cheddar cheese

When I was growing up, the only cheese we had was your standard block of mild cheddar cheese. You know, real cheese. I would go to friends houses and they would have this weird and gross impostor cheese that was individually wrapped. (I think this contributed to my refusal to spend the night at friends houses. The risk for “fake cheese” as I called it was too high.) I never asked about it, probably because I grew up with some manners and didn’t want to be rude. (Thanks Mom!)

Fast forward to my early twenties and I am ordering a hamburger. I politely ask if they use “real” cheese, which¬† seems like a very straightforward question to me. They say yes, and then my burger comes out with fake cheese! This goes on for over a year before my then boyfriend explained that the “fake cheese” had a name. American cheese. All these years I had been asking if they used fake cheese, and no one bothered to tell me it had a flipping name! But at least I had a title for my nemesis.

I really, really hate American cheese. The smell makes me nauseous, the texture is awful, I could go on and on. The only good thing American cheese has done for me was to initiate a needed break up. It was our first trip to the store together, and he bought American cheese. I went home and really accessed the relationship. Upon reflection the guy was a raging alcoholic and kind of an asshole, but it could have taken years for me to notice that had it not been for the American cheese incident.

I have a new friend that doesn’t know anything about food, and it’s been really fun to feed him new food and expose him to stuff he’s never tried before. When we first started hanging out he told me that he didn’t really see the difference between American cheese and “real” cheese. He had grown up with American and it seemed natural to eat it. I bit my tongue and hoped that given enough time he would come around.

So last night we were having dinner and he said that he understood “the cheese thing.” He said that it drove him crazy how people mindlessly listen to the radio, when the music is terrible! Being a musician this is something that strikes a chord with him.¬† (See what I did there, musician, chord…!) Anyway, he said that people listen to the radio because they don’t know what great music is out there, and they have always just listened to top 40. He realized that it is the same with cheese, and food in general.

We do things the way we were raised and most of us never think about it. I know this was the case with me. The only reason I ever tried new food was because I wanted to impress a guy! Up until my early twenties I thought butter was only for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I only ate ranch dressing etc… It never occurred to me to wander in the supermarket and try couscous or an artichoke. It took an outside force to get me to loosen up and take a risk.

It may sound weird, but I am soooo proud that I helped someone come to a realization like that. It sounds small, but who knows what other areas that idea will manifest itself in! (I mean, he could one day claim something other than pizza as his favorite food. Crazy.) And even if that’s all that comes of it, if one less person eats “fake” cheese, I’m a happy girl.

  1. rafael armstrong commented on February 24th, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    But, I ask, is it possible to like both “real” cheeses, as well as pasteurized processed cheese product (like American or Velveeta-type stuff)? After all, there are plenty of people with refined pop culture palates that just can’t get enough of trashy reality/talk tv. In my mind the “cheese thing” is sort of like that.

    Or am I completely off base on this? Just askin’, s’all…

  2. Melanie commented on February 24th, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I think the difference is knowing something is a guilty pleasure. I know that Little Debbie Oatmeal pies are gross, but you can bet your ass I eat the hell out of them once and a while. In fact, I think I enjoy them more because I know I’m not supposed to. White trash forbidden fruit, if you will. :)

  3. Liz commented on February 24th, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    2 things.

    #1: Rafael, i see what you’re saying. I wouldnt call myself a fan of American Cheese, but I like it in the ironic way that I like Baywatch.

    #2 Melanie … This reminded me of the first time i spent the night at a friends house, and in the morening, at the breakfast table – her Mom poured me a glass of “Orange Juice”, I took a gulp and then politely let them know “oh.. i’m sorry – i think maybe yr juice has gone bad.” They tasted it, then looked at me like i had two heads! ….what was happening? It wasn’t “Orange Juice”, it was SUNNY DELIGHT!!!!

  4. annie commented on February 24th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    i would have preferred “strikes a chord…”

  5. Melanie commented on February 24th, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Me too! Thank goodness for Liz and you letting me know that I’m a total dork! :)

  6. Bayless commented on February 24th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Sorry Mel, but I LOVE me some American Cheese.

  7. Julia commented on February 26th, 2010 at 3:18 am

    if only we could figure out a way to use cheese as a day-to-day relationship determinant…some sort of hybrid american cheese/maturity test/polygraph test combo…