It’s Monday, which means if, like me, you haven’t grocery shopped since last Monday, you’re either eating leftovers, take out or Kraft macaroni and cheese, that delicious miracle of chemistry that perfectly approximates what real macaroni and cheese would taste like if we ran out of cows.
I’m just kidding, obviously. According to the company’s website, Kraft Mac & Cheese is not only “The Cheesiest” mac and cheese type product out there, it’s also “part of a balanced meal,” if you add in some veggies and force your child to drink milk. The pasta is good, solid carbohydrates, and while the cheese powder is initially a little confusing, it can’t possibly be worse than anything their parents ingested in the 1970s, as part of a television dinner or otherwise. But because the box meal is enjoyable, practical, low-cost, filling and nutritionally viable, it has clearly come under fire from the White House, whose matriarch has banned it from the kitchen outright.
In an interview in the March issue of Cooking Light magazine, Mrs. Obama says Sam Kass, the family’s former personal chef, had taken a stand against the boxed variety, which includes processed cheese powder among the ingredients.
“He said there’s nothing wrong with mac and cheese, but it’s got to be real food,” she said, crediting him with helping to eliminate processed food from their diet.
Kass gave her daughter Malia, who was about 8 years old at the time, a block of cheese and challenged her to turn the fresh cheese into powder.
“She sat there for 30 minutes trying to pulverize a block of cheese into dust,” Mrs. Obama says. “She was really focused on it and it just didn’t work, so she had to give up. And from then on, we stopped eating macaroni and cheese out of a box because cheese dust is not food, as was the moral of the story.”
To be fair, it appears that the chef’s intentions forced the experiment’s outcome, since you can certainly turn some cheese into powder, if the cheese is hard enough and aged well enough. I do it with parmigiano reggiano all the time. And the experiment is missing some key variables: American cheese slices wouldn’t dissolve into powder, but that does not make them real food; Velveeta makes a tasty Kraft Mac & Cheese alternative that involves a thick liquid, not a powder, which you can clearly make out of any cheese with the right amount of heat, but also does not make it real cheese; and the Kraft cheese powder might actually be cheesier than you’d expect. That doesn’t make it a perfect option, to say the least, but it makes it a viable one.
Mostly, Mrs. Obama is paraphrasing a Michael Pollan-ism that you should eat food that comes from a plant not out of a plant, which is fine, if you can afford the time, energy and money that comes with a steady diet of real food. With a personal chef, it’s very easy to have home-made macaroni and cheese on the table at the end of a long, hard day. Maybe, instead of Kraft-shaming hard-working parents out there, in the interest of bridging the gap between the rich and poor, Mrs. Obama should offer her personal chef to the harried families who occasionally rely on boxed meals to satiate their offspring. But far be it from me to deny the First Lady an opportunity to instruct poor people on how to live their lives.