The Grim Reaper Loses His Cheesehead

Billboard near Lambeau Field (Handout)

A billboard carrying an ominous warning about cheese consumption went up as planned today near Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., but with its most controversial element missing.

The Grim Reaper has lost his Cheesehead.

The physicians group that sponsored the ad says the billboard vendor refused to put up the original ad after the manufacturer of Cheesehead hats threatened legal action against both the doctors group and the billboard company.

“Although we weren’t backing down the billboard vendor did back down,” said Dr. Neil Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), which designed the ad and rented the billboard space.

The original ad featured The Grim Reaper sporting a Cheesehead, a triangular yellow hat made popular by legions of fans of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.  The text of the ad reads:    ”Warning:  Cheese Can Sack Your Health.  Fat.  Cholesterol.  Sodium.”

But Barnard said that after receiving a threat of legal action from Foamation, the company which holds trademarks on the Cheesehead,  the billboard vendor refused to put the ad up in its original form. According to Barnard, PCRM offered to indemnify the company against legal action, but still they wouldn’t budge.

So today, after painting over the Cheesehead with black and gray paint, the sign is now up along Route 41 in De Pere, a heavily traveled route for Packers’ fans on their way to the stadium.

“The message that we designed was intended to be informative about an important issue and a little bit funny, in a tongue in cheek kind of way,” Barnard said.  “And I am sorry that some of that is going to be lost.  This is America, and if I want to say that cheese is high in cholesterol and sodium and fat, a doctor should be able to say that.”

The underlying message of the campaign is that the American people are consuming far too much cheese, and it is leading to obesity and other health problems, he said. According to USDA figures cited by PCRM, the average American consumes nearly 34 pounds of cheese annually, more than 10 times the average amount a century ago.

“Where are we putting 30 more pounds of cheese per person every year?    The answer,” Barnard says, “is on our thighs, in our middles and all over our bodies, in obesity.  That word has got to get out but it is going to take more than one billboard to drive that point home.”

PCRM’s planned billboard had also raised the ire of the state’s $26 billion dairy industry.  An official of the state’s Milk Marketing Board said Monday that the group is an animal rights fringe group with a “vegan agenda.”   The erasure of the Cheesehead is not likely to placate advocates for the dairy industry.

“They are trying to shock people,” said Patrick Geoghegan, a spokesman for the industry.   “They have a friendly sounding name, but they are an animal rights group.

Barnard said PCRM’s campaign is about public health and free speech, and he’s disappointed the Cheesehead company decided to object to the billboard.    And he couldn’t resist a parting shot at Packers’ fans who don the hats on any given Sunday.

“If they feel like someone somehow is hurting the reputation of a Cheesehead, it is hard to imagine anything hurting the reputation of it any more than has already been done by all those people sitting in the stands at ball games with paint on their faces with those silly hats on their heads eating hot dogs,” he said. “It is not a very appealing image.”

Take that, Cheeseheads.