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The Juice Media's August 22, 2022 satirical video "Honest Government Ad | UK" (please be aware there's racy language; it's Australian satire) includes a presumably real clip of current UK Prime Minister Liz Truss saying the following:

We're producing more varieties of cheese than the French!

After which she paused and smiled for effect, presumably to let the point sink in.

But without context we can't know what the point was. The only clue is the writing on the podium which says:

Securing a Better Future

So I'd like to ask, based on context from her speech once it can be identified and perhaps a transcript found:

Question: What was (future UK Prime Minister / then Secretary of State for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs) Liz Truss's point when saying "We're producing more varieties of cheese than the French!" in a speech before becoming PM?

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    The answer is almost certainly that France is known for paying particular attention to the quality and variety of its cheese and wine products (so the statements is probably meant to indicate that the British food industry is experiencing a period of development and innovation). But is this question really about governments? I haven't come across Truss' statement. Can you, please, add more context to show that this is related to governing.
    – wrod
    Oct 15, 2022 at 0:58
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    The question is slightly misleading as it was Liz Truss making the statement and, although she is now the UK Prime Minister, when she made the statement she was not the UK Prime Minister but instead was Secretary of State for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs so it is a historic quote from a previous role.
    – MT0
    Oct 15, 2022 at 10:35
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    @MT0 The function that "UK Prime Minister" is meant to serve in the title is to identify the person; While folks like BJ and DT have amassed widespread name recognition worldwide over their tenures as world leaders, the name Liz Truss has not necessarily reached a critical level of name recognition worldwide yet. Can you think of an alternative way to do this just as effectively that you wouldn't perceive as "slightly misleading"? Oct 15, 2022 at 11:07
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    Any chance of this comment of Truss having to do with the famous quote of de Gaulle "How can anyone govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?"
    – Gábor
    Oct 15, 2022 at 21:42
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    @Gábor a similar comment from Johnson, maybe, but with Truss, I can only suggest you look at what she said about "pork markets" to get a flavour of her oratorical skills and the research behind her speeches.
    – Chris H
    Oct 17, 2022 at 8:34

3 Answers 3

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While the British jingoism angle covered in other answers is definitely an important one, I think it’s worth considering the context in which the speech was delivered to get the full picture.

The speech was delivered by Truss at the Conservative Party conference in 2014 - when she was serving as Secretary of State for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs in David Cameron’s coalition government. This needs to be seen, then, in the context of appealing to the Conservative Party membership in the hope of their continued support, as well as a pitch to the country as a whole - given a General Election was right around the corner.

In the same speech, she attacks both Labour and the EU - note that this speech took place two years before the Brexit referendum;

The amount of British food we consumed and produced went down and the last Labour government tied our farmers up in red tape. They wasted £600 million on fines to the EU and left us with the worst bovine TB problem in Europe.

The fact is Labour don’t care about the countryside. They think we can’t grow enough of our own food. They think it’s fine to outsource it. Well, they are wrong.

She goes on to promote British agriculture and food production;

I want our children to grow up knowing the taste of a British apple, of Cornish sardines, of Herefordshire pears, of Norfolk turkey, of Melton Mowbray pork pies and, of course, of black pudding.

Under a Conservative government, Britain will lead the world in food, farming and the environment. In a fortnight, I’m going to Paris to the world’s largest food trade fair and I will be bigging up British products.

So yes, the thrust of the sound bite linked is a jokey jibe at France based on their good reputation for producing cheese; but linked to promoting British agriculture - part of her job description as DEFRA Secretary. The speech also needs to be seen in the wider context of being a speech to the Tory Party faithful (hence the jingoism), rather than a serious policy speech, as well as taking place less than a year before a General Election.

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If I remember correctly, Truss was giving a keynote speech to some kind of business / trade group conference.

Presumably, her goal was to project British economic power abroad and reassure investors that Britain remains competitive on the global market. The way she chooses to convey that message is to use France as a convenient punching bag to contrast how well Britain is doing.

Of course, it's entirely possible Britain does indeed produce more variety of cheese than the French, but that's not what she's actually talking about. The British-cheese-variety is meant to symbolize the economic superiority of the UK over France.

This kind of rhetoric is targeted specifically at a certain sector of the British population, who believe the UK is superior to France (whatever that may mean) and takes great pleasure in having that belief reaffirmed.

But to some people outside of UK, her cheese-variety remark naturally came off as petty, small-minded, and a bit dumb. Here is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a former maritime empire (unironically) boasting about cheese superiority with its European neighbour as if Brexit is still happening. Both the content and the delivery produced bad PR.

PS: It should be noted that Truss is known for being very bad at public speaking. She often comes off as wooden and doesn't know how to land the punchline. Which is to say perhaps another politician would have made the cheese remark actually funny.

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    For context about her public speaking ability (particularly about cheese), see this clip youtube.com/watch?v=srHNcNoEJ9g Oct 15, 2022 at 16:28
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    "it's entirely possible Britain does indeed produce more variety of cheese than the French". Nope. France has between 1000 and 1600 types, the UK around 700. (and 99% of it is cheddar anyway, no one is fooled)
    – njzk2
    Oct 16, 2022 at 16:34
  • @njzk2 I'm not entirely embarrased to say they all taste the same to me. If I get fed I'm happy. Oct 17, 2022 at 7:14
  • @njzk2 my now deleted answer pointed out that technically Truss is right - it is easy enough to google up the evidence, and it is not hard to imagine, since anyone can make cheese, just like anyone can brew one's own beer. Variety implies some kind consistent quality and commercialization, likely officially attested by the government and/or international bodies. This however does not mean that these varieties are even nearly as reputed and recognizable as the French ones. Oct 17, 2022 at 13:54
  • @njzk2 If you count pale cheddar, yellow cheddar, orange cheddar, young cheddar, aged cheddar and so on you might get a lot of types :)
    – FluidCode
    Oct 20, 2022 at 14:36
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If you're going to look at historical similatiries, the example of post-2014 Russia is an obvious candidate.

In 2014, Russia has responded to some sanctions from EU by introducing its own food embargo: A wide range of foodstuffs could no longer be exported by EU countries to Russia. This became known as a "Jamon and Parmesan" or just "Cheese sanctions". It turns out, that most of foodstuffs are trivial to source or produce locally, the important exception is cheeses.

European cuisine recipes require a wide variety of cheeses in them (Cheddar, Mozzarella, Dorblu and especially Parmesan), which are historically produced in specific regions of Europe and nowhere else. Therefore, Russian hospitality business had to go a long way to offer the same portion of ground parmesan for their pasta, including contraband. Sourcing locally is often possible, with hard cheeses being the most problematic ones due to their long production process which is hard to get just right. Fast forward 8 years, there's a large selection of artisanal cheeses in Russia, including some hard cheese, which are still likely come at a significant premium to European ones if you could buy them with reasonable mark-up. There's still no substitute for affordable and reliable ground Parmesan.

So Liz Truss is probably seen claiming that her Britain could survive not just Brexit but a complete blockade of European trade, implicating futility and half-assedness of such attempts if they are tried in practice.

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