This morning I was watching BBC Breakfast and there was a report from Steph McGovern who was at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich. The International Cheese Awards are the “biggest and best cheese awards in the world” and so you can understand why the BBC were keen to cover the story.
During the report, McGovern claimed that cheese is eaten in 99% of households in the UK (according to the Top Cheese Facts page on the website of the British Cheese Board1, cheese is bought by 98% of British households and so I assume 1% of households are receiving donations of free cheese). She also said that 400,000 tonnes of cheese is sold in the UK each year. Again, there is a slight discrepancy between this figure and figure given on the British Cheese Board website:
We consume around 700,000 tonnes of cheese a year (including Cottage cheese and Fromage Frais) at home, in restaurants and in processed food. If you exclude Fromage Frais and Cottage Cheese it is about 600,000 tonnes – which is equivalent to about 10 kgs per person per year or 27.4 grams per person per day. Our European counterparts eat almost twice as much as much cheese per person per day as we do, mainly because European breakfasts often feature cheese.
In order to put her (possibly erroneous) figure of 400,000 tonnes of cheese into some sort of context which the average BBC Breakfast viewer could visualise, Steph explained that it was equivalent to “40 Eiffel Towers” of cheese – a statistic considered so noteworthy that the BBC Breakfast Twitter account tweeted it to its 125,1072 followers:
If the Eiffel Tower were made of cheese, the UK would eat the equivalent of 40 cheesy towers every year, according to @stephbreakfast. Phew.
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) July 29, 2014
I found this a little confusing to be honest. I struggled to visualise forty Eiffel Towers of cheese because I wasn’t sure what an Eiffel Tower of cheese was. Was it a solid block of cheese the same height as the Eiffel Tower? If so, what were the other dimensions? Was it by volume, and if so, was it just the volume of the metal itself or the volume of the space contained by the tower? Was it by weight? What does the Eiffel Tower weigh? Does an Eiffel Tower made of cheese weigh the same as an Eiffel Tower made of wrought iron? Surely not. So does Steph McGovern mean that we eat 40 cheese Eiffel Towers of cheese or 40 wrought iron Eiffel Towers of cheese? So many questions. I was not alone in being confused:
— Tim Burnett (@tim_burnett) July 29, 2014
— CB (@Johnt4CB) July 29, 2014
One person had concerns about the structural integrity of an Eiffel Tower of cheese:
— Paul Guppy (@PGuppy) July 29, 2014
I contacted Steph McGovern via Twitter to ask for clarity regarding her Eiffel Tower of cheese fact:
@stephbreakfast How did you calculate your cheese/Eiffel Tower fact?
— James Ward (@iamjamesward) July 29, 2014
So far, I have not had a reply from Steph McGovern.
My suspicion is that in this case, the Eiffel Tower is being used as a unit of weight. According to Wikipedia:
So “an Eiffel Tower of cheese” is being used to mean “an amount of cheese which weighs the same as the entire structure of the Eiffel Tower (including non-metal components) ie approximately 10,000 tonnes”. So when Steph McGovern said that in the UK we eat around 400,000 tonnes of cheese each year, which is the equivalent to “40 Eiffel Towers of cheese”, she meant “400,000 tonnes is the equivalent of 40 things which each weigh 10,000 tonnes”. I do not think that “an Eiffel Tower” is a helpful unit of weight for measuring cheese consumption.
And now, I’d like to end with a joke:
If Steph McGovern were determined to use a famous landmark as a unit of cheese measurement, then a much more appropriate choice would be Big Ben. Although, of course, a cheese Big Ben wouldn’t actually be the famous tower, because the clock tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower. The name Big Ben refers to the babybel inside the tower.
1. “The British Cheese Board is the voice of British cheese and is dedicated to educating the British public about eating cheese as part of a balanced diet.”
2. Number correct at time of going to print