Compassionate Theory of Everything

The Evolution of Nacho Cheese

I love nachos. I eat pounds of gooey chips sometimes. Also, I’ve spent much of my life near morbid obesity. I’m an American.



Whoever thought to put yellow British cheese on Mexican tortillas was a genius. Actually, his name was Ignacio. He had cheddar. He had tortillas. And he had tourists show up while he was closing his kitchen for the night.

Limitation is the cruel stepmother of invention. He had three ingredients and he forced himself to use them. Ignacio probably wanted to go home without having to clean the fryer again.

But “Nacho” Anaya, that lazy genius, didn’t invent “Nacho Cheese.” Cheddar and sliced jalepenos on fried tortillas was his idea, and it spread from Piedras Negras, Mexico across the world pretty quick.

Nachos eventually became something more… cheddar may be good but it’s not “nacho cheese.”

Nacho Cheese isn’t even cheese. Even the FDA knows that, and those guys allow chlorocarbons to be put in kid’s drinks.

“Real Nacho Cheese” is a warm nectar of savory satisfaction, coating the tongue in unctuous fluorescent fulfillment, filling the belly with the warm goo of well-being and making you cry for umami. Nacho Cheese is like food, but better.

Nacho Cheese exploits.

500,000 years ago, both Neanderthals and proto-humans were searching for fat and calories. Fat was the most potent form of energy in food, the biggest bulwark against starvation for those two-legged hunter-gatherers.

Fat comes from animals, with flesh full of luscious lipids. When humans ate it, their bodies celebrated. Celebration often includes procreation. Humans that cooked the fat before chowing down, were more in the mood to make more humans. Modern people are fat-searchers with a metabolism and an endocrine system built around fat.

If you don’t believe that, try eating no fat at all. You’ll die.

We’ve been looking for warm, dripping fat for a long time. We found Ignacio “Nacho’s” Especiales during WWII in Mexico, but it took another 30 years, and a quintessentially American form of thinking to bring us Nacho Cheese.

While British cheddar is great on chips, it’s relatively expensive. And you can’t pump gobs of cheddar out of a can. Profit and speed are the drug cocktail usually injected to create an American Dream.

Frank Liberto brought us what the 20th century had been waiting 480 centuries years for.  In a long line of successive agricultural achievements and technical developments, this was the crowning glory of mankind: Gallons of warm fat and cheap calories. He first squirted the goo of our mammalian aspirations on tortilla chips at a Texas Rangers game in 1976. The rest of the world was too busy dancing disco to notice that we had solved the #1 problem of being human.

We often solve one problem and create another simultaneously. Then we complain about the new problem, instead of celebrating the fact that the old one was finally solved.

Let us celebrate the American conquering of Caloric Uncertainty.

In beginning this new leg of our journey as a species, we reached the end of long and arduous climb through some serious evolutionary muck. Mankind reached the end of an era, yet shook their booties unaware. Most of us are still unaware of the achievement signified by the dawn of Nacho Cheese.

The history of this living world is the history of the question “What’s for dinner?” All animals ask it.

The primary problem for all living creatures is “how to find food before running out of the caloric energy to try finding it.” So that question of “How do we get enough?” is part of what we are.

We’ve been asking ourselves that question since before we were multicellular. Everything with a leg, everything that ever took a step had to answer that question. Those that didn’t find a good answer aren’t walking around now.

We took one tired soggy foot, and planted it firmly on dry ground when we first developed agriculture. We dragged the other foot out of the bog with mass production. Modern man stepped fully out of that muddy uncertainty with our big farms, and the farms have gotten bigger ever since. Modern Americans were the first population where the majority of people could get “enough.” By 1976, most people had enough to eat.

For the very first time in the history of mankind, a civilization had enough food. It bears repeating. By the 1970s we had developed methods of mass foodmaking that gave a majority of people in the US more than enough to eat.

A large group of people called Americans had enough to eat! Finally! At least 154,909,520 people called “middle class” had access to “way more than enough” by the 1980s. And that’s not counting the increasing number of “upper class,” or all the cheap calories that became available to the “lower class” by the 1970s. Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for creating the cheap starch that has filled cans and bellies around the world since then. He made a form of wheat that grows superfast and makes lots of calories-per-acre. He said that the Nobel Prize commission had been “selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry.” His development of “White Dwarf Wheat” may have saved millions of people in Africa and India from starvation.

As Americans, we reached our biggest goal as a species! We solved our biggest problem as living creatures! We met our biggest challenge – and won!

Nobody noticed.

On that fateful day in Arlington, Texas, as the baseball crowds wandered the concession stands and encountered something new and gooey and ambrosial and full of fat and starch, we stepped forward yet again. With the economic abundance of post-World-War-2 America, and the crop-maximizing-unnatural-selection of Norman Borlaug, we had farmed and marketed our way well beyond the slippery marshes of caloric uncertainty.

We strolled on the Problem of Caloric Uncertainty. Towards a new problem.

Such is often the way for us, as cultures and individuals. Solve one “problem” and face a new one. And so many times, we don’t even allow ourselves even a moment of triumph. We don’t take a quiet minute to reflect and say “Hey, whoa, I guess we really did it!” The next problem lures us away from the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Perhaps a lack of celebration, a lack of cheering for our American team’s biggest win ever, is why we continue to try applying an old strategy to a new game. We no longer face a problem of “not enough.” Yet we continue to grab for more.

We powerwalk past celebration and march towards new problems with our earbuds swinging and fierce. We move forward stressfully unaware of the milestone we just passed.

Most of us can’t remember what “not enough” feels like. Maybe our parents could, or their parents. We cannot remember the cry of hunger. We put that “not enough” baby to bed, wrapped it in warm dough, then rolled it in sugar and forgot all about it. We cannot distinguish addictive cravings from hunger. What would we compare them to? If you can’t remember “not enough,” you cannot celebrate “enough.”

Without contrast, we can’t even feel the difference between lack and fullness. But we’ll still push for more.

“Too much” is fun, but only when it feels like a contrast with “enough.” How can “too much” feel like a contrast with “too much”? Our culture has forgotten all the lack that first made us strive toward “bigger, better, faster,” and we grow numb as individuals. Being numb hasn’t stopped us from pushing our evolutionary buttons, just from feeling good when we push those buttons.

So we try to contrast “way, way, waaaaaay too much” with “too much.” Yet it doesn’t feel fulfilling.

Its been a generation since “too much” and microwaved-speed was a luxury, or even a novelty. Now “too much” is a basic expectation.

Want to try something else? Take a week off from “enough.” Fix chicken and broccoli in olive oil and salt, and bring your lunch to wherever you’ll be during the day. Do it for 6 days in a row. You’ll feel outside of culture. Eat as much chicken and broccoli as your stomach can take, if you want. You’ll feel deprived. You won’t be deprived of nutrition, but something in you will scream for starch and sugar and fat.

And then, you’ll probably notice you weren’t even feeling much, before. Maybe you weren’t feeling much for a long time. First, you’ll feel deprived with only “enough” protein from chicken and nutrients from broccoli. Give the deprivation time, and you’ll be able to feel jubilation again.


Then we can celebrate with a nice warm gallon of nacho cheese.


Maybe enough to share.


One thought on “The Evolution of Nacho Cheese

  1. What do you call somebody else’s cheese?
    Nacho cheese.

    “Nacho cheese is like food, but better.” Absolutely.

    I jumped on the foodie train a long time ago, but I like to get off from time to time at the convenience stores along the way to pump out some cheese product on my stale tortilla chips. A little beef jerky and Big Gulp too. Mmmm. This and ramen noodles (the really spicy ones you get at the Asian market with a week’s worth of sodium in one serving) are my favorite junk foods, the first things I dream of when I’m dieting.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s