At the end of the opening credits for iconic stoner sitcom That ‘70s Show, Wisconsin’s state slogan makes a weekly cameo: A shot of an “America’s Dairyland”-emblazoned license plate welcomes viewers into the show’s world of hot-boxed Midwestern basements, tight-fitting bell bottoms, and Oldsmobile Vista Cruisers. As the theme song fades, an exuberant voice yells “Hello, Wisconsin!” The show makes Wisconsin look fun.
But That ‘70s Show aired its last episode more than a decade ago. And now, business leaders are calling the “Wisconsin dairy” brand outdated. The head of Wisconsin’s business lobby has called for a change to the state’s slogan: Out with the cheese, in with the circuitry—dairy farms be damned.
Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, says the state should consider removing “America’s Dairyland” from its license plates, Ag Update reports. A facelift, he explains, would help modernize outsiders’ perception of the state. Bauer’s office did not immediately respond to The New Food Economy’s request for comment.
Bauer pointed to other economic developments in the state, such as the arrival of electronics maker Foxconn, as evidence that Wisconsin has outgrown its cheesy past. (The name Foxconn ring a bell? The Taiwanese company manufactures Apple products, and its Chinese factory was the subject of an entire 2012 This American Life episode featuring performer Mike Daisey, who said he had visited southern China and witnessed child labor and injured workers firsthand. It was later revealed that Daisey fabricated many details of his visit, and host Ira Glass taped an unprecedented retraction episode during which he grilled and shamed the performer for an entire hour. It’s still online and well worth a listen.)
Back to cheese: Wisconsin is still the country’s top producer, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, and it leads the nation in prestigious cheesemaking awards from both the American Cheese Society Contest and the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. It’s also the second-largest producer of milk in the nation (after California). The state is home to nearly ten thousand dairy farms and more than a million dairy cows. And the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics estimates that the dairy industry contributes more than $40 billion to the state’s economy each year.
Bauer’s suggested slogan switch doesn’t seem to have gained much traction in local papers. “Keep your silicon-stained robotic arms off our license plates,” read one op-ed in Kenosha News. “His suggestion was all hat and no cattle,” wrote the Lakeland Times. The Wisconsin State Journal solicited reader feedback, and commenters on its social media sites sarcastically suggested “America’s Gerrymand” and “WisFoxConnsin” as alternatives to the whole-milk slogan of yore.
One reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel polled passersby in a video for the paper. “American Wisconsin, whatever!” suggested one man. “Watch Packers, drink beer,” offered another. “Heart of the Midwest” and “don’t drive drunk” were also thrown into the ring.
But if a handful of man-on-the-street-style interviews and social media chatter are to be trusted as a temperature gauge for Wisconsinites’ opinions on changing the slogan, which has graced every license plate in the state since 1940, the prospect of unseating “America’s Dairyland” leaves most residents cold. “Wisconsin state is full of cheese, and you can get any kind of cheese anywhere,” one resident explains. “I like it, and I love it, and I think it should stay that way.