Today's page-one lead story by investigative reporter Michael Moss brilliantly deconstructs the hypocrisy of a government that fights obesity with one hand while promoting cheese products with the other.
But it doesn't mention the NYT's own hypocrisy. While probing government programs that push high-fat cheese products with one hand, it promotes cheese products with the other -- with regular recipes, reporting and recommendations that treat cheese, particularly when delivered on a pizza, as a healthy food choice.
A look at the last several years of cheese references in the NYT -- helpfully gathered in a Times Topics section, "Cheese," introduced with a lengthy Florence Fabricant essay that makes no mention of its saturated-fat content -- finds almost no stories that reference the dairy product's potential health hazards.
In fact, in recent years, NYT reporters and critics have mostly written about cheese as though it were a leafy vegetable.
In September, restaurant critic Sam Sifton heaped praise on fat-filled pizzas that sound like a suicide mission for a heart patient.
Reviewing Fornino in Park Slope, Sifton criticized a "plain margherita pie" that "sits flat and crackly on its plate, devoid of yeasty flavor; it felt in the mouth a little like a pizza made with saltines."
"More successful are the versions in which a fair amount of stuff is piled on top of the pie, and the cheese and fat perhaps protect some part of the dough," Sifton went on, with emphasis added by us. " The pizza Mr. Ayoub has dedicated to the memory of Mr. Scotto — piled high with Bel Paese, pecorino, fior di latte and ricotta, as well as slices of fiery salami and dabs of roast-pepper aioli — has proved itself to be a marvel of structural integrity, with great texture beneath the creaminess. It is the best on the menu."
It's good to see Sifton's concern for "structural integrity" in a pizza "piled high" with cheese, but it might also be nice to see some semblance of concern for our arteries.
Other Sifton reviews have extolled the virtues of cheese cupcakes, cauliflower and goat-cheese gratin, a goat cheese creme brulee (okay, that does sound good), and, at Prime Meats in Brooklyn, "a nice selection of Northeastern cow, sheep and goat cheeses worth lingering over" before you "walk out into the soft Brooklyn night."
Sifton's predecessor, Frank Bruni, also lavished heart-damaging praise on the cheesy pizza principle.
"As for toppings, they should add a whisper of sweetness or murmur of heat to the milky, tangy, wonderful white noise of cheese," Bruni wrote in a 2009 Critic's Notebook, "The Crust Is A Canvas For Pizza's New Wave." "All of the pizza places in my list of new-generation favorites understand this. And almost all of my favorite pies exemplify it."
Just yesterday, an essay by Lesley Alderman in the business section -- objecting to the proliferation of fats and sugar in school lunch diets -- referenced pizza as a healthy lunch option for kids, assuming it's made "on the premises with fresh ingredients."
After citing milk as a healthy beverage choice -- even though its high fat content comes under scrutiny in Moss's story -- it recommends packing cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch, instead of schools' fast-food fare. Sounds like saturated fat to us, though that aspect of the Alderman-approved diet isn't mentioned.
Similarly -- and regularly -- NYT reporters and critics refer to cheese as a preferred ingredient of recipes and meals, even healthy ones. We looked through five years of NYT references to cheese, and found no mentions whatsoever of the saturated fat content that is the focus of Moss's investigation.
This hypocrisy extends to the NYT's coverage of Domino's Pizza itself -- which, before today, didn't address the health issues associated with the product.
An October 10, 2004 article by Brendan I. Koerner covered the debut of a new Domino's pizza, "The Doublemelt," which closely resembles the "Wisconsin" pizza that's the focus of Moss's investigation. Koerner describes the Doublemelt as "two thin crusts glued together with a potent cheese-and-herb sauce, then slathered with a six-cheese blend."
The Doublemelt had 16 grams of fat per slice of a 12-inch pizza. That's four grams more than the pizza slice that's the focus of Moss's article.
To be fair, Koerner's 2004 article did acknowledge some problems being created for American consumers by the introduction of such an excessively cheesy pizza.
"Dark days may be ahead," Koerner conceded, "for tomato sauce fans."