Unexpected shortfall in U.S. cheese sauce reserves triggers chaos in pasta futures market

Last Friday, my wife had a date with a younger man. She took our six-year-old to a Mother-Son event at school.

With Mommy and Big Brother gone, Buster, New Baby, and I were left to our own boys’ night out. Incidentally, New Baby turned 1, so we should probably invent a new nickname.

I gave Buster the choice between his three favorite foods (i.e. things he will eat) for dinner: pizza, chicken strips, or mac & cheese. After a half hour distracted by LEGOs, he chose mac & cheese.

Normally, I would grab the elbows and the block of Velveeta and get to work, but since Big Brother was getting his night out, I decided we would go to Panera for dinner.

The anti-Panera

Not all fancy-pants like Panera, but the kids like it, especially when I sprinkle in some actual cheese.

We’d already discovered we cannot afford to feed the entire family at Panera. The misleading appearance of the go-up-to-the-counter-and-get-your-food-yourself façade of affordability crumbled during our first visit.

But we would only be getting a kid’s mac & cheese and a little something for me to share with New Baby. This was our chance to enjoy Panera on the cheap.

I got a half Panini and a half mac & cheese to go with Buster’s kids’ mac & cheese. We opted for water from the fountain. This was gonna be awesome; we were gonna do Panera on McDonald’s funds.

Can you hear the buzzer? That loud, long one that sounds like WROOOONG!

Two little bowls of macaroni and half a flat sandwich: $15.23.

As we went to get our water, Buster said, “I no want water. I want juice.”

“They don’t have juice here,” I lied. None that your kind can afford, I thought.

Even the water at Panera must be made from gold. They allow you a dental rinse cup. That’s fine for the kids, but since I’d be filling up on water tonight, I’d like a bigger cup.

You know how some restaurants make up for higher prices with large portions?  You know, a kid’s plate of chicken fingers an adult couldn’t finish? Panera has never heard of those places.

Buster’s and my dishes were the same size. They each contained about as much macaroni as he can hold in one of his three-year-old hands.  My $4.79 half Panini came out 21 cents short of a dollar per bite.

mining for pasta

Panera employees digging out precious nuggets of macaroni.

New Baby ate most of my macaroni and some of my sandwich. He was still hungry. I asked Buster, the skinny kid who never finishes his dinner, if his brother could have some of his. “No!” he replied, protecting his rare and precious noodles with his arms.


He sighed. “One.” Raising his index finger, he stressed, “One macaroni.”

After that, I resorted to scraping up the remaining cheese sauce from my bowl for New Baby.  That sauce was probably worth upwards of $3 on the open market and I felt fiscally irresponsible for overlooking it before.

There's cheese in them thar hills

Little-known fact: When cheese sauce is first pumped out of the ground, it has a dark color. It only acquires its lighter hue during the dangerous and expensive refining process.

Buster’s kids’ “meal” came with a little tube of yogurt. I’ve never seen him attack a side item with such greed. He twisted that tube into a knot eking out every last bit of sustenance.

We cleaned our plates as if our food were made of silk and pearls, which are probably less expensive per ounce. Then I did the wholesome, fatherly thing: I took them to get filled up on ice cream.