Al Rasheed: Reactions to Velveeta shortage exhibit Americans’ obsessive tendencies

By Sophia Al Rasheed / Columnist

I recently spent an eventful Wednesday evening investigating how to perfect macaroni and cheese, leading me to type “Velveeta substitute” into the search bar. Before I could finish, however, the surprising pairing “Velveeta shortage” was suggested. I was suddenly on a completely different mission.

I’m probably not the first to tell you, but America’s favorite cheese substitute reached a shortage just in time for Super Bowl season. And it probably comes to no one’s surprise that Americans made a huge deal out of it.

My screen immediately flipped to postings of “#cheesepocalypse” and articles expressing concern over what in the world we’re supposed to serve at Super Bowl parties. Some even went so far as to blame Obama for the sudden decrease, claiming this is just a ploy from Obamacare to keep us from yet another unhealthy habit.

My concern arose from the fact that, when Americans have something standing in the way of their favorite products, they get angry and have no problem expressing that anger to the entire nation. The bottom line is that fans, especially in areas concerned specifically with their Super Bowl menu, might have to wait several weeks before reuniting with the beloved product described as “liquid gold.” From what little Kraft is sharing, it’s a short-term problem resulting from temporary high demand and a plant issue.

The problem at hand is, as mentioned, simply a short-term one, and is receiving an embarrassing amount of attention. But the overarching problem with this type of reaction is that we find it a better use of our time to express anger and blow the issue out of proportion instead of actually solving it through substitution. 

The appeal of Velveeta, in a way, exemplifies our tendency to over-do our love for food and specific products. The brick-shaped, no-refrigeration-required product found its way from pasta sauces to dips and into our hearts because of how easy it is to use in recipes. We like to keep our tables big and we like an array of dips and appetizers at our parties — not just the standard nachos served everywhere else. These aren’t feats that can be accomplished with standard shredded cheese — imagine how many portions that would take — and this is why we openly welcome such a strange product into our kitchens. The word ‘moderation’ simply has no place in our hopes for bigger portions, more variety and leftovers for days to follow. I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate this American food mentality; sadly, it’s ingrained in our culture. But I do think we can alter the way we as American consumers approach the “problems” we face as a consumerist, over-the-top nation. 

We could start by trying not to boast about obsessive consumerism for the whole world to see. Velveeta is a substitute cheese product for cheddar — it’s not even approved by the FDA as real cheese. Why wasn’t our initial thought to simply substitute the modified product with, perhaps, real cheese? We responded, not by altering our recipes — which actually would come with the benefit of long-forgotten nutrition — but instead by creating a Twitter rampage, along with headlines about how outraged Super Bowl chefs would be?

It does appear a bit strange that despite the many Super Bowl seasons we’ve endured, the Velveeta brick has failed to remain a grocery stock staple. The fact that we’re not surprised at belonging to a culture that apparently cares more about this issue with such intensity, however, is even more strange. 

Fortunately, there are many articles explaining alternatives to Velveeta, and Pittsburgh fans have more to sob about than food this Super Bowl season. But for the other consumerist “problems” that we’ll face in the future: Try responding to them like adults. 

Write to Sophia at [email protected].