HISTORY OF L’ETAT LAITIER -or- However You Say ‘Dairy State’ in French by Bruce Gee


Used to be, the three requirements for public school education in Wisconsin were to teach readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic, plus the health value of dairy products.

My mother bought salted oleomargarine on the cheap, smuggled in from the northern border of Illinois as a substitute for butter. It came white, in a large sealed plastic bag, with a bullet of red dye secreted in one corner. One massaged the two colors until it turned to yellow, just like butter. As a kid, oleomargarine was more illegal in Wisconsin than weed, which had not yet been noticed by the legislature.

Time was, cheese was real. True Cheese Eaters, such as my father, preferred stinky Limberger and other varieties he’d cadge from his esoteric cheese eating buddies that stunk even more. You’d know Dad was in the kitchen snarfing the curd a good ten paces before arriving there. It kept us at a distance.

When I was in second grade, the local AT&T phone company sent a guy over with lots of cool equipment; heavy metal dial phones we could barely lift at that age. He’d connect a bunch of wires and we’d talk to each other from opposite sides of the room. This was a great way to spend an afternoon in February in Wisconsin. He announced, ‘Kids, in a few years, telephones will be made from an amazing new, light material!’


And then came the Taco Parties. These came as kits with preformed, static taco shells a la Taco Bell even to this day. Shredded cheese; ground beef with a special spices packet fried in, shredded iceberg lettuce, and a Mystery Sauce. The kit included a nesting tray for the tacos, and soon enough everyone was garfing real Mexican food. A party! A Taco Party! Kind of spicy, we thought. In the Dairy State, catsup has always been the salsa of choice.

The great innovator of cheese was Oscar. The Meyer plant was a huge edifice in northeast Madison, featuring the Wienie Tunnel and the Wienermobile. And! Perfectly Square Plastic-Wrapped, Convenient, White-Castle-Thin Slices of something that resembled cheese. It melted up nice. Campbell’s Tomato Soup and summa dat what became Kraft Plastic Cheese. Place a couple slices between some Wonder Bread, slap some oleomargarine on both sides, and throw it on a hot griddle. Truly the glory of a child.

about the artist

Bruce Gee Son of Bayard, middle named Bayard. Spent his life searching for the meaning of Bayard. Raised a quiver of young ‘un. No regrets.

Image generated on Stable Diffusion 2- 1



Every month around this time she goes into town to buy flour, onions, and pickling…

Read More