Add it to the list of things adults under 40 are being blamed for
Millennials! We're always murdering something. Maybe it's homeownership, or mayonnaise, or antique furniture, or the idea of ever actually retiring. Maybe it's because the generation born from 1982 on has overwhelming student debt and lower quality of living than their parents? And maybe it's because adults under the age of 40 are spending their money on things that their predecessors didn't, and not spending money on things their predecessors did. In any case, American cheese is on the decline, and those millennials are to blame once more.
According to a report from Bloomberg, American fast food chains are abandoning the melty, gooey goodness of American cheese and moving to other cheeses—Asiago, Swiss, and Gouda. McDonald's is now serving a preservative-free version of American cheese, making it very different from the Kraft Singles of bygone days. Panera has moved from American cheese in its grilled cheese to Fontina, Cheddar, Monteau, and smoked Gouda. Sales of processed cheese are in their fourth quarter of decline. So long, Velveeta.
But of course, the story of American Cheese is more complicated than "entire generation has suddenly lost taste for it." American Cheese is one of the grocery aisle products that carries a great deal of weight in terms of American social class. All cheese is "processed"—it's kind of a nonsense term. But as artisan cheese is a signifier of good taste, American cheese, in the wider culture, is linked with stigmas associated with poverty and race. Government cheese, for example, is American cheese, not Swiss or Cheddar, and it should be noted that lactose tolerance is a quality that is most prevalent in people who have Northern European ancestry. The shift to artisan cheese, as Soleil Ho and Erica Carson wrote in Munchies, is "bound inextricably to the rising strength of the euro in the early 2000s, at which point consumer price sensitivity allowed domestic, artisanal cheese to earn some of the status imports had historically enjoyed."
So did millennials actually kill American Cheese, or did globalization and shifting tastes that enshrined fancy cheese as a lucury good akin to fine wine do it in? Depends on who you ask, and which cohort of millennials you're actually talking about. After all, adults 36 and under encompass a vast range of people in varying economic brackets, with all kinds of backgrounds and preferences. Plus, you know what cheese is the best for eating on a hamburger, according to this millennial? American. It melts just right.