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A History of Individually Wrapped Cheese Slices (1979) [pdf] (villanova.edu)
45 points by magda_wang 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments



This topic brings up the issue of wrapping in Japan. Japan is notorious for having excessive wrapping. Individually wrapped cookies in a box with a plastic tray to hold each cookie. The bottom half of the box is sealed with a plastic tear off cover. The top of the box slides over. Then the entire box is wrapped in paper. If you purchase if they will then put it in a branded paper bag. If it's raining they will then put that paper bag in a plastic bag to protect it from the rain. That's 6 levels of wrapping.

It's a cultural thing AFAICT. Sure people speak out once in while but it seems unlikely to change without some major major concerted national PR effort against it, getting celebrities, politicians, etc all on board pushing for months or years and possibly even organizing boycotts until things change. But, if someone wants to do their part of make a small dent here well, here's a project you can try to take on.


In the 1970s, I remember being out of town and buying a bag of doughnuts at a grocery store. I walked to the cashier who promptly asked me if I wanted it in a bag. There was a pause and I didn't know how to reply.

Eventually I said, "It's already in a bag."

On another note, there's a hilarious scene of Archie Bunker (All in the Family, also from the 1970s) in the kitchen making hiimself a sandwich and trying to unwrap a single cheese slice. These were relatively new then I believe.


>Individually wrapped cookies in a box with a plastic tray to hold each cookie.

When used in cases where an item should be consumed sparingly anyway (as with sweets), I don't see the individual wrappers as excessive. It helps keep the food from spoiling due to exposure, thus prolonging the useful life of the product.


Exactly. In Japan you're not expected to buy a box of cookies and stuff your face with all 1800 calories at once. You take out a couple of them when you have guests over, maybe someone takes one or two, the rest go back in the cupboard until next time.


In South Africa, you pay for the plastic bag, unless it's not a perishable product.


In France you can't even pay for a plastic bag anymore. But you can buy one-use paper bags or reusable plastic bags.


In Japan major supermarket chains now give you a discount if you choose to refuse a bag, but it's on the order of 2 yen, and it's an "opt-out" thing rather than an opt-in thing.


> unless it's not

I think there's one negation too many in there. You're saying that you pay for the plastic bag if it is a perishable product, which sounds backwards.


In SA, you pay for any plastic bag that is bought at a supermarket or similar store. If it contains a product which is not perishable (like clothes), then you usually get a different type of paper or plastic bag with it without charge.

I think I said this in a funny way, because this slightly differs from store to store—I am not sure whether the regulations are applied uniformly. (Takeaways, for instance.) But yes, if it is perishable, then usually you pay for the bag.


Funny, I just wrote a comment on this below. There are some things that are uniquely Japanese that make zero sense. Wrapping is one of them.


> some major major concerted national PR effort against it, getting celebrities, politicians, etc all on board pushing for months or years

Why do you need PR when the parties responsible for all this wrapping are corporations? It’s not the dagashi down the street giving you six layers of wrapping.

When big corporations are doing something you don’t like, you don’t use PR to fix it. We’ve had plenty of PR about recycling in the US and it’s affected consumers plenty and corporations not—at—all (except where the responsibility ends up in the hands of individual consumers, like office managers.)

No, the way to make corporations change their behaviour, is to just make a law about it. For example, a “consumer waste reduction corporate tax incentive.” It’s the bottom line that says that extra wrapping is good (for some reason); so it’s the bottom line that needs to be convinced otherwise.


> When big corporations are doing something you don’t like, you don’t use PR to fix it.

> No, the way to make corporations change their behaviour, is to just make a law about it.

But for example society in the UK and US (not sure where else) has basically just decided that plastic straws are not acceptable, and major corporations have made huge changes in a matter of months to remove them. That's much faster than implementing a law.


It's not altruism, they're just getting ahead of changes in the law.

The EU announced[1] they were looking at banning single use plastics. It was after that announcement that lots of companies annoucned they were making changes. By getting ahead of the law they can brand it as doing something they didn't need to do. (Much like how UK phone companies announced they were "abolishing roaming charges" because they did it a few months before it was an enforced law.

They get to advertise their 'green' credentials while not moving themselves to an uncompetitive position in the long term.

[1] https://www.ft.com/content/e1168020-627a-11e8-90c2-9563a0613...


All of what you're describing sounds like PR to me. The fact of the matter is Starbucks are reducing plastic straws and there is no law telling them to do so.


It's partly PR, and partly the ability to do things on your own terms. You do not want regulations forced on you, that is bad for the bottom line. You need to be in control. This is the story with self-regulation across industries.


> You do not want regulations forced on you, that is bad for the bottom line.

Also, self regulation can be safer in terms of come-back.

Where under an external regulatory pressure a misstep might result in some form of fine or at least a public outing. With self regulation many things can be more easily wrapped up with "oops, butter fingers! sorry, won't happen again" and all that might be more readily kept internal rather that having some form of issue reporting requirement enforced by the regulations.


But it is the companies creating positive PR by getting ahead of expected pressure.

I think what the earlier poster was talking about is using the relationship the other way around: the public using their relationship with the company to say "I could always vote with my feet/money you know, you might want to consider...".

It amounts to the same thing in the end (the pressure they are trying to stay ahead of is created by governments reacting to social change and environmental issues) but the earlier post was talking about more direct action. The more direct route can be quicker, but it requires more effort (well, some effort from more of the public) to be truly effective.


There is in Seattle, where their corporate headquarters are located.


These are the "huge changes" to which you refer? https://www.facebook.com/mcsuk/posts/10156716876190086

Individually plastic-wrapped paper straws? No, yours is not a good example of corporations respecting human needs.


>We’ve had plenty of PR about recycling in the US and it’s affected consumers plenty and corporations not—at—all

That pile of used tires, cardboard, scrap metal, pretty much anything that's even slightly cheaper to recycle (into the same product like in the case of paper or something else in the case of vulcanized rubbers) than to make from scratch gets recycled wherever possible because there's a profit to be skimmed off of doing so.

Taxing people or corperations into doing what you want is a messy solution with all sorts of negative externalities (e.g. cost of compliance prevents competition and innovation). If all you care about is that the negative externalities not occasionally litter the side of the highway then I guess it's a win but I'd rather pay someone to clean up trash than drive extra business for people who make their living dealing with taxes.


the issue is culture. customers want this. it seems fancy/nice/luxury/high-class. so companies are not going to gut their own sales. If you want it to change imo you need to change the customers' minds so they actually want less wrapping.

corps have changed by PR. no demand = no sales = change.


> Why do you need PR when the parties responsible for all this wrapping are corporations?

Consider this from the perspective of the person in charge of packaging. They propose a change requiring costly re-tooling. It also changes the product's appearance and user's experience.

What is the benefit to this cost and this risk? Could the decrease in packaging give advantage to a competitor? If you deploy the marketing dollars to promote this trend, could a competitor piggyback on that by making the switch but not incurring the associated marketing costs? If they can't answer these questions--which itself costs time and money--the proposal is D.O.A.

> the way to make corporations change their behaviour, is to just make a law about it

How do you think one builds a coalition for getting a law passed?


> a small 5# process cheese cooker.

Things like this make me wish I had a more rural lifestyle and had the space for stuff like this. Cooking is great and all, you can do an awful lot with just tools you can store in a kitchen. But experimenting with ingredients, and man, tools is a whole 'nother level.

YouTube channels like Alex French Guy Cooking where he makes his own mozzarella, worked with other YouTube makers to create the best pasta roller ever made, a massive, amazing meat tenderizing mallet, and just the YouTube makers in general almost have me wanting to rent my one bedroom condo out so I can go live out in the sticks and buy cheap tools like a small 5# process cheese cooker, tear off my shirt and Hulk-transform into a mad scientist.


The post scarcity economy is going to be so cool.


If plastic waste on cheese slices bothers you from environmental perspective, please do not google Japanese candy / sweets as those come individually wrapped, packaged in more plastic, inside a box, wrapped by plastic. When I was first introduced to Japanese sweets I could not wrap, tehee, my head around the reasons for why this is happening.


AFAIK the individual wrapping is for sharing the snacks. In east asia you get chastised if you buy a snack for yourself ("are you gonna eat it alone?"). That explains the little plastic trays under the cookies too. Just open the paper box and slide off the tray in front of your friends. But then, isn't it ironic that this group-centered practice leads to a selfish, polluting outcome?


I'd be likely to buy such things slightly more often, since I could eat a few and not waste the rest. The way it goes now is that i have packaging anyway that gets thrown out, but half a box of cookies is likely to get thrown out as well.

I recycle all of my plastic. I use enough reusable bags that I have to buy trash bags - the current batch is made from corn and is compostable. But through all this, I'm not sure that a responsible plastic being recycled or composted is any worse than throwing out actual food.

Additionally, perhaps it would be easier for folks to control their eating with the packaging just because it takes so much longer to eat. My understanding is that the bubble packaging on pills helps to reduce suicide in a similar vein (it deters folks overdosing on pills, at least).


Maybe so that you can grab a few on the go, or eat small amounts and keep the rest fresh. At least this is how someone I used to know used super-wrapped stuff.


I can't comment on cheese slices, but as somebody who lives alone and has an appetite resembling a small rodent, I very much appreciate individually wrapped perishables, especially when said wrapping is recyclable/compostable.

I throw out a lot less when I can buy large quantities of smaller "perishable units" at once, vesus shopping little and often.


Given the problems with plastic waste how can anyone justify individually wrapped cheese slices? (Constructive answers only please. I am genuinely interested in seeing if there are any arguments in favour.)


Individually wrapped cheese slices could lead to less spoilage.


Except in practice individual slices all go bad at (roughly) the same time. If a block of cheese goes moldy you can just slice off the mold and keep going. Cheese goes bad outside-in, pre-sliced cheese has way more surface area.


Processed cheese dries out very rapidly when exposed to the dry air inside a refrigerator.


So does nonprocessed cheese. You'll want to store it in something nonpermeable like modern cheese paper, or a small plastic bag.


This is potentially true. As far as I can see from the article this is only achieved by the use of preservatives. I wonder if similar results in limiting spoilage could be achieved using different preservatives without the wrapping?


As someone from Wisconsin it is wrong to even call that stuff "cheese". The plastic wrapping and the contents are pretty much the same thing.


Meh, this is just snobbery. Processed American cheese is still in fact a cheese, and whether you like it or not, it has its place.


>Processed American cheese is still in fact a cheese, and whether you like it or not

Not according to EU law. Over here, Kraft Singles could only be described as "processed slices (made using a blend of cheese, vegetable oils and milk proteins)".


Again, this is a type of snobbery, it's just encoded into law. The product tastes like a cheese. It contains the components of a cheese. It is used in applications where a cheese is used. It's not a great cheese, nor a traditional cheese, but it is in every way, functionally, a cheese.

As long as consumers are clearly informed about what they are eating (via labeling) and the food is safe for humans to consume, constructing a legal definition of products like 'cheese', 'ice cream', etc. just seems like pandering to interest groups.


“Constructing a legal definition of products like ‘cheese’” is the way various governments ensure that consumers are clearly informed about what they are eating (via labeling).

If it weren’t forbidden, this product would be sold in a package showing cows and cheese wheels, with “CHEESE” in huge letters on it, and, in a place people wouldn’t look at and in tiny low-contrast letters, a remark that this is processed protein made from diary.


Same in the US. You have to buy Kraft premium American cheese (or another brand) to get real process American cheese, which is just cheddar plus an emulsifying salt.


Isn't it technically a "processed cheese product"?

Why eat something so intensely boring, when there is so much great cheese out there?


I used to agree with you. Then I read this: https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/07/whats-really-in-american...

The answer to your second question is: Texture. The way process (not "processed") cheese melts is definitely different than similar cheeses. There's a gooeyness and meltability that's unique for applications like a grilled cheese or burger, and good process cheese is just cheese that's been melted with a few salts.

It turns out there are many different American cheeses:

Pasteurized Process Cheese - Various cheeses melted together with an emulsifying agent.

Pasteurized Process Cheese Food - Mostly cheese, but with a higher % of 'the other stuff'.

Pasteurized Process American Slices - Not actually cheese. A vegetable oil horrorshow.


I know there's a reason people like it, but when you can have cheddar instead, I still don't understand why anyone would prefer American cheese, other than nostalgia.


Take pride in what you create, rather than what you consume.


I make amazing food, using quality ingredients.


It has its place. It is called the garbage.


Potentially less spoilage, because it would be limited to just one slice, and also less risk of smelly fingers. It's simply a convenience and comfort issue for a lot of people. We've gotten used to pre-sliced, pre-portioned food products. There's also a big convenience benefit for breakfast buffets and similar situations where slicing your own cheese is seen as inconvenient, messy and time-consuming.

Personally I don't even like to buy pre-sliced cheese, never mind individually packaged slices. I have a perfectly reasonable cheese slicer, and a cheese knife for softer cheeses. We absolutely do not need plastic packages with 10 slices of cheese, separated by individual plastic sheets.

Most of the time the pre-sliced cheese also tastes worse, and tends to go sour-smelling after a day or two, once the package is opened. I find it extremely puzzling that we've managed to turn a thing meant to preserve dairy potentially for years, into something prone to spoiling extremely quickly.

There's a similar issue with pre-sliced serrano ham and other meats that are packaged with plastic sheets between them. Sure, it helps you to take out a single slice cleanly, but the plastic waste is insane. I'm not sure if there's a better packaging solution, but honestly I would just prefer to buy a whole piece of cured ham, and slice off thin pieces myself instead.


> where slicing your own cheese is seen as inconvenient, messy and time-consuming

> Personally I don't even like to buy pre-sliced cheese, never mind individually packaged slices. I have a perfectly reasonable cheese slicer, and a cheese knife for softer cheeses. We absolutely do not need plastic packages with 10 slices of cheese, separated by individual plastic sheets.

Perhaps it's just a weird English mature cheddar thing, but half the joy of eating cheddar is trying to make nice clean slices and eating the extra bits that crumble off. If I'm making a sandwich only half the cheese I cut off goes into it, I eat the other half.


Oh yes, definitely. Cheese is just full of savory goodness, I hate to let even a tiny piece go to waste. So what if it crumbles? It'll still fit on my bread just fine, and still taste just the same :-)


Is plastic waste that much of a problem in first world countries? We're pretty diligent with transporting our garbage to landfills where the plastic doesn't really do all that much harm. It was my impression that the vast majority of all plastic waste that ends up in the ocean comes from countries that don't have proper garbage management, where people just dump everything into the next river.


In short, yes.

The creation, processing, transportation and recycling of plastics is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions[0] and other forms of industrial pollution like water table pollution from landfills.

A conservative estimate[1] puts 10% of all plastics created (from first world countries too) being deposited in the worlds oceans, to disastrous effects[2]. The US economy is one of, if not the largest, contributing factor to the above pacific plastic waste problem.

Even if we're better at recycling plastics than some countries (still pretty terrible at only ~10%) and not letting them leak out into the environment, the sheer volume we consume and dispose of still makes the US and other Western countries by FAR the biggest contributors to plastics pollution.

0: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/industry/technical...

1: http://plastic-pollution.org/

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch


I feel like it's an issue because everything is plastic wrapped these days. My local supermarket has plastic bags of apples, where every single apple is individually wrapped in more plastic - just WHY???? not to mention the stupid amount of plastic containers used for ham, cheese, bread....few of which are recyclable. I've had some deserts lately, where the outer packaging was plastic, then there was a plastic tray, holding two plastic cups, each with a plastic cover on top. It's an absolute madness, I feel like I'm shitting right on the environment just by having some dessert. Not that long ago all ham/cheese would come wrapped in some waxed paper. Bread would come in a paper bag. Nowadays I'd estimate 80% of my refuse bag is just plastic. And sure, my recycling bin is full too - but the refuse bags are not going to be recycled, it just goes straight to the landfill, where the best hope for it is that it will be used for fuel at some point, like it is in Scandinavian countries. So yeah sure - it's not going in the ocean. But I don't think we're a lot better at it either.


> Is plastic waste that much of a problem in first world countries?

Yes is the answer...

A lot of the plastic waste from first world countries gets shipped to Asia (very cheap; the container ships are much emptier going back...). China received so much plastic waste that in January it banned imports. Consequently shipments to other Asian countries have skyrocketed. Many of these countries have terrible records for the amount of waste plastic washed into the ocean.

Some UK statistics:

- 475,000 tonnes of household plastic waste is recycled per year

- 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste [i.e. not all household] is exported to China, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.

- Those three countries are in the top 10 for plastic waste reaching the ocean.

Sources:

- https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-plastic-polluti...

- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42456584


For cheeses like Edam, Gouda, Emmental you can't really, they work absolutely fine stacked in a multipack.

But for that sort of fake American cheese that melts beautifully onto burgers if you shipped them packaged together the slices would merge together in a warm kitchen in my experience.


With the American cheese, I've found that the white has a higher melting point than the orange, usually, so a big block of sliced white american cheese holds up well. I don't really have any idea why that would be the case, but it's definitely been my experience.


>I've found that the white has a higher melting point than the orange, usually, so a big block of sliced white american cheese holds up well.

This is my experience as well. I still buy the yellow cheese because its lower melting point is more suitable for rapidly melting over things I want to melt it over.

Even though the theoretical shelf life may be the same regardless of packaging the block of cheese in a ziplock from the deli will go bad faster than wrapped singles, probably extra air (the same way bread in a large container goes stale faster than bread in a bag) and possibly because of a difference in preservatives. In practice singles have a much longer shelf life.

Everything has tradeoffs.


This is a fascinating history. The trial and process of innovation here is one any engineer can appreciate. Unfortunately individually wrapped cheese goes against two things I've removed or reduced in my life: 1. Processed foods 2. Plastics.




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