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Before ‘government cheese’ was a punchline, it was an experimental economic plan

Today, the term ‘government cheese’ is perhaps most commonly associated with the late US comedian Chris Farley and his 1993 Saturday Night Live sketch in which a motivational speaker warns a couple of wayward teens that, if they don’t get their act together, they’ll soon be ‘living in a van down by the river’ on a steady diet of the stuff. But before it became well-worn comedy fodder, the dairy surplus was the result of a 1977 US government initiative to support farmers and assure the country’s control of its own food supply. However, as this charming (or irritating, depending on your lactose tolerance) cheese-filled explainer from NPR’s Planet Money details, the whole endeavour went a bit haywire. And although the ‘government cheese’ programme effectively ended in the 1990s, its legacy has left the US a bit milk-bloated ever since.

Producers: Bronson Acuri, Ben Naddaff-Hafrey

Website: Planet Money

11 July 2019

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