Lane: Boris Johnson Could Call on Spirit of Reagan to Save Britain’s Cheese

US President Ronald Reagan makes a speech outside 10 Downing Street during a state visit to London, UK, 9th June 1982. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is standing to the right and US Secretary of State Alexander Haig is behind and to the left of Reagan. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton …
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Just weeks after controversy raged over useless government food handouts for poor children, an opportunity has arisen: buy the tons of quality English cheese languishing in warehouses after the Westminster-imposed hospitality shutdown and post it directly to people in need.

With the United Kingdom approaching the first anniversary of its coronavirus lockdown, the hospitality industry — the fleeting ‘eat out to help out’ days aside — remains in a state of stasis, if not outright collapse. This has meant a huge hit on the suppliers to those customer-facing businesses, particularly of perishable goods people love to enjoy while out, but may not necessarily think to buy for home.

According to Britain’s state broadcaster, one such sector is speciality English cheese companies, which supplied victuals to restaurants and pubs for piquant postprandial nibbles, but whose customers vanished overnight with the government’s endless on-off lockdowns. Indeed, the BBC notes nearly two whole tons of quality Cornish Blue cheese is on the verge of being thrown away because, having matured ready for consumption, there are only a few weeks in which it is still good to eat and nobody is buying.

This is a much greater issue for dairy products like cheese than for other producers in the hospitality sector. While the factory producing cheese can slow down or even suspend production, the dairy farmers supplying that business still have cows producing milk every day, and it is this end of the industry that gets hit hardest.

With nowhere else for the milk to go, the farmers may be forced to accept even lower prices for their daily fresh produce — a disaster given how dangerously low milk prices have already been driven by greedy supermarkets — or even left to simply throw fresh milk down the drain.

Meanwhile, possibly through carelessness, incompetence, or corruption — all accusations that have lately been levelled at the government — the Conservative government in the United Kingdom burned some goodwill with its so-called food parcels programme.

The initiative saw food given directly to parents as a replacement for the free meals entitlement usually given to disadvantaged children at school. The problem was, while the government was being charged £30 a bundle by suppliers, the meagre actual contents were worth a fraction of that.

Is there a solution for these woes? There is a long — and slightly bewildering — history of so-called government cheese. In the United States, the government had given hard-pressed dairy farmers a hand-up during times of price collapse in the 20th century by bulk-buying milk and turning it into a standardised long-life cheese, as well as other products. While this was a sort of Cold War strategic reserve, tens of thousands of tons of cheese were ultimately distributed to low-income and otherwise vulnerable U.S. citizens by President Ronald Reagan.

Certainly, this is not the normal approach of Britain’s Conservatives. Then again, neither is having half the nation on government benefits, placing the country under house arrest, or 10-year jail sentences for fibbing about going on holiday.

As Marie Antoinette didn’t say, let them eat artisanal English cheeses. It’s only going to go in the bin, otherwise. And while you’re at it, give Britain’s hard-pressed but intrinsically valuable farming community a much-needed break.


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