Is there really a Velveeta shortage?
Kraft Foods has announced a shortage of a processed cheese product called Velveeta, a mainstay of American Super Bowl parties.
The announcement last week came with a social media blitz and a Kraft website devoted to tracking the shortage.
Ken Albala, a food historian at the University of The Pacific in California, isn't certain there actually is an insufficient supply on any store shelves.
"It's really not a seasonal product and there is no obvious reason why there should be a shortage," he says.
Kraft launched a website that tracks and illustrates the scarcity across the United States based on Twitter reports. The computer-generated map shows the vast majority of the country is in no actual danger of running out of the cheese-like product.
During Velveeta's mid-20th century heyday, after it was developed to use leftover whey, the product carried no negative stigma. Instead, it was celebrated for being lower in fat, shelf stable and for its ability to stay creamy when melted.
"It's really a cheese for people who don't know how to cook," Albala says. "For the generation that first started using this post-depression and post World War Two, this was a convenience. The net effect of it all was that people just ... began to rely on convenience foods and became deskilled as a result."
And while suggestions that the impending Super Bowl have helped the product fly off store shelves, Albala says the timing is a little bit off.
"It would actually make a lot of sense if it happened around the Super Bowl in the U.S. because nachos, melted cheese casseroles with Velveeta, are really popular in that season," Albala says.
"But that hasn't happened yet and it's almost a month away. I can't imagine people running out to the store to buy their Velveeta for recipes they're going to make a month from now."