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Minnesota 2020 Journal: Ending Cheese Puffs Public Policy

March 22, 2013 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

It’s time to own up to the truth. Conservative public policy is failing Minnesota. After several decades, including the past ten, intensive-effort years, conservative no-new-taxes/less-is-more ideological policy application is making family and community life worse. Despite clear shortcomings, conservative policy ideas persist.

Why? The answer lies in the innocuous, seemingly simple, innocent cheese puff where, nutritionally speaking, there’s no there, there. Instead, flavor bling disguises a darker caloric consumption strategy that creates enormous profit while creating long-term health risk. The relationship between cheese puff and conservative ideology is straightforward, robust and quite nearly interchangeable.

Minnesota conservative public policy rhetoric is like cheese puffs. It comes in jumbo bags, delivers a simplified flavor punch, and requires little consumption thought. Consuming one readily leads to a second and then a third until the package is empty. And, like cheese puffs, at day’s end, Minnesotans are left with a bloated, sick feeling, having done the body more harm than good. Most importantly, however, conservative policy, like cheese puffs, isn’t a neutral experience; it’s actually bad for you.

In the past weeks, State Capitol policymakers have rolled out biennial budget proposals. Well, that’s not quite true. Governor Dayton and the progressive legislative majorities released numbers; conservative policymakers didn’t. Or, at least haven’t yet. Instead, they passed around the same tired policy snack bowl that they’ve been offering for years: cuts, cuts and more cuts.

The conservative policy approach isn’t working. In fact, it’s failing Minnesota. Yet, conservative policymakers stubbornly stick with it in much the same way that conservative talk radio keeps doubling down on angry. It’s not a mistake. Conservative rhetoric and the policies that it supports are designed, much like cheese puffs, to deliver short-term consumption reward despite long-term cost.

Cheese puffs are an extraordinary food sciences accomplishment. They’re the apotheosis of high tech food manufacturing, blending corn meal, salt, sugar, oil and powdered spices. At its most basic, corn meal is ground, steamed and fed into an extruder. The output is rapidly expelled into pre-determined lengths and quickly deep-fried in oil. The heated water molecules stretch and expand the corn starch but remain contained by the oil. The now-puffed, cooked corn meal is lifted from the hot oil and, cooling, sprayed with more oil and a flavored cheese powder. The product is cooled, bagged and shipped. The entire manufacturing process takes less than twenty minutes.

Gougeres are baked, not extruded and deep fried in oil. They’re a light dough, whipped up from butter, flour, water, eggs and cheese. At room temperature, gougeres are delicious, even as day-olds. Warm, just out of the oven, gougeres are an ethereal, to-die-for snacking experience. They’re also a high-calorie food, just like cheese puffs. While choux pastry has been around for five hundred years and extruded cheese puffs are barely 80 years old, eating too many achieves the same, rapid result. You get fat and grow unhealthy.

There is however, one critical distinction. The industrially-produced cheese puff snack is rooted in a concept called vanishing caloric density. It is, in effect, the crack in the crack cocaine that is more highly addictive than the already addictive cocaine. Steadily consume a tray of gougeres and, eventually, you’ll feel full as your stomach’s digestive process chemically communicates “enough” to your brain. Reaching the bottom of a cheese puffs bag doesn’t produce a full feeling so much as it creates salt and fat consumption exhaustion. Likely as not, you’ll look around for another bag despite the boat-load of ingested calories.

This, in a nut-shell, is why there’s more profit in cheese puffs than gougeres. The mouth-feel process—oral satiation—takes longer to exhaust than a full stomach. Chewed, cheese puff food architecture efficiently reduces the fried corn meal back to a tiny amount of corn mush, oil and spices. The high calories punch remains but without volume.

Conservative policy rhetoric functions along the same lines. Like cheese puffs, conservative rhetoric feels great in the mouth. It’s artfully crafted outrage, deception and half-truth that chews and tastes like public policy language.

Earlier this week, Governor Dayton and progressive state legislative chamber leaders released revenue and budget plans. While different, all three plans share common ground in modestly increasing the highest levels of state income taxes after ten years of annual budget cutting. Conservative legislative leaders wasted no time criticizing the proposals while declining to offer an alternative. Once again, State Senate Minority Leader David Hann affirmed the conservative faith in budget and tax cuts as every problem’s solution. He’s rejecting responsible nutrition and passing around the cheese puffs.

After ten years of the public policy equivalent of vanishing caloric density, it’s time to put down the cheese puffs bag and get up off the couch. Minnesotans expect a balanced, responsible revenue and budget policy. They know the difference between snack and meal, between distraction and substance. When leaders focus on what really matters, jobs, schools and healthcare, Minnesota moves forward.

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  • ChristeenStone says:

    March 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I do agree our past ten years of no real food has left us in sad shape. When the “no new tax crew” took over, Minnesota went on the downward road. We got lots of fees, but of course not taxes, however, our property taxes skyrocketed. Never heard, but did they just consider that a surcharge, know we got some of those. I know thousands of people were thrown off
    the Minn Care programs and other benefits.
    It was definitely not a balanced diet.
    Plus that last year was spent on Constitutional Amendments which was a very
    poor diet, mostly bedroom issues, which is not where I think our Government should ever go. They have enough real problems to solve which are what they were elected to do. Thank you for this article.

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