One hundred years ago, Swiss-born inventor Emil Frey created Velveeta while working for the Monroe Cheese Company in Monroe, NY. He discovered he could use the broken and misshapen pieces of Swiss cheese sent to him from a different cheese-making factory in Pennsylvania, combining them with other cheese by-products. A little mixing here and a little melting there and…voila! Velveeta!
Though it is much maligned now, I was raised on Velveeta. (When an uppity cheese wants to pick a fight with Velveeta they taunt the gelatinous cheese-like loaves by calling it “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product.” I’m sure it’s very hurtful for the Velveeta.) My sisters and I would take out the Tupperware container designed specifically for storing the Velveeta, slide it out and slice off a chunk with one of those metal cheese slicers with the wire that cut through the yellow blob so effortlessly. Then we would take an epicurean voyage into the World of Kids On Summer Break Making Their Own Lunches in the 1980’s. The following is one of our most often made recipes:
Remove one slice of bologna and place on melamine plate featuring Ronald McDonald accidentally showering Mayor McCheese with a garden hose. Generously slather mayonnaise over the entire bologna surface, a thickness of ¼ inch is preferable. Tear a Velveeta slice into small pieces and scatter pieces on top of mayo. Cut into triangles. As you eat the tiny wedges, comment on the unique flavor of your “Bologna Pizza.”
For the longest time, Velveeta was pretty much all I knew about cheese. I hadn’t tried much of anything else. I wouldn’t know a Gorgonzola from a Gouda or a Colby from a Camembert. When Velveeta is all you know it seems delicious, until you spread Brie on a warm chunk of French bread or get that back of the mouth salivation from a sharp cheddar. Once the feeling of betrayal has faded, you realize what you had eaten for all those years was a substitute for the real thing.
The Gospels are full of people asking Jesus if he was the Real Thing. The followers of his cousin John asked him. The High Priest asked him. One of the criminals hanging on the cross asked him. Everyone wanted to know if they were standing in the midst of the One and Only Messiah or just a Velveeta-like concoction, a resembling fake.
You can understand their questioning. Jesus didn’t look regal, and he didn’t lead a political rebellion. Maybe he wasn’t what they were expecting. But he told John’s followers: “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” (NLT)
When Jesus’ followers asked him to tell them plainly who he was, he said, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name.” (NLT) He wanted them to open up their eyes and ears to notice what was happening. In his loving patience, Jesus was willing to prove himself over and over again to his people. His understanding of his identity was solid, so he was unafraid of comparisons or degradations or even having supper with well-known sinners. Jesus once told a thirsty woman that he was the Messiah as they talked beside an ancient well in Samaria. Now it’s our job to also proclaim him as the Real Thing.