Call it heresy -- Green Bay Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers announced that he’s going cheese-free.
The 2010 Super Bowl MVP told the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Monday that he’s pursuing a non-dairy diet after minor knee surgery forced him to re-examine his health. He followed “more of a vegan diet” while recovering from surgery.
“I just wanted to get healthier,” Rodgers told the Press-Gazette. “I’ve done a lot of research and talked with Adam Korzun, our nutritionist, and some other friends around the league about how I can extend my career and how I can be and feel healthier. Through your eating, you can reduce inflammation. Because if you do research, you learn the different foods you eat can actually increase the inflammation in your body — and especially in certain parts of your body.”
Rodgers said he would like to play until he is 40 years old (he’s currently 32). He said he hopes a dairy-free diet will enable that.
His announcement hasn’t gone unnoticed by pundits and locals alike. Star Tribune sports columnist Michael Rand asked, “Is that even legal in Wisconsin?” Another sports headline declared it a “Wisconsin scandal.”
Green Bay's fans, who famously don cheese-shaped hats and call themselves “Cheeseheads,” expressed their displeasure on Twitter and elsewhere, joined by many of the 78,000 Wisconsinites who work in the state's dairy industry. Wisconsin’s economy owes $43.4 billion of its gross state product to the dairy industry. That’s half of the state’s overall agricultural impact. Indeed, the average dairy cow in the Wisconsin generates $34,000 a year in economic activity, according to industry estimates.
In a statement to the Green Bay ABC news affiliate, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, a Madison-based nonprofit with revenues of $27.3 million funded by the state's dairy farmers, reminded Rodgers that more than economics is at stake: "He does need to be careful to consume the important protein and calcium he needs for strong muscles and bones.”
The research community and the health-conscious have vacillated in the past century on the worth of dairy products. Milk and butter were deemed in the early and mid-20th century as superfoods but were demonized from the 1980s onwards as companies began to push low-fat, sugar-free diet foods. Now, new research suggests some fatty foods, such as whole milk and cheese, are good for you.
In any case, even if some Americans are cutting down, Wisconsin is still a dairy haven. The Midwestern state’s cheese production has increased 40 percent in the past 15 years, according to an analysis of USDA data. Diet-friendly yogurt has seen a 300 percent boost in that time, and even fatty butter experienced a 10 percent uptick in the last decade.
“There are a couple of things working in our favor,” said Patrick Geoghegan, head of communications at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “Dairy products taste great, they're a natural product, and they're good for you.”
And one, for now, Rodgers will be avoiding.