White House Big Block of Cheese Day draws on tradition, 'The West Wing'

Top White House officials took questions from the public Wednesday via social media in the second annual Big Block of Cheese Day, described by the Obama administration as being "feta than ever."

The online, all-day event drew from the examples of two presidents.


One is Andrew Jackson. As the story goes, the seventh president of the United States once invited the public to the White House to eat a 1,400-pound block of cheese and discuss the issues of the day.

The other president is Jed Bartlet, the fictional White House resident from the popular TV show "The West Wing." He reintroduced the Jackson cheese-eating story, which in real life catapulted it to popular legend status.

In fact, the cast of the show reunited in this video, which is full of cheesy puns ("You feta believe it!") to promote the event. The online Q&A came  on the heels of Tuesday night's State of the Union address and was intended to serve as a follow-up discussion of the issues.

The Bartlet presidential administration referred to the historical cheese eating in a famous episode where Chief of Staff Leo McGarry persuades the president to let interest groups meet with senior staff members whom they would not normally see, in the example of Jackson's spirit of open government. The staff wasn't too pleased with this idea, and the interest groups included environmentalists who wanted to build a wolf-only highway.

Historians, however, told ABC News that the first president to receive a big block of cheese was actually Thomas Jefferson, and that Jackson wasn't motivated by open government at all, because he didn't think he needed to be governed by public opinion. The cheese-eating was just a way to get rid of the large gift from a New York dairy farmer, according to the Atlantic magazine.

Participants in the Big Block of Cheese Day used the hashtag #AsktheWH on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.

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