If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It! (Butter, Margarine, and the Real Food Face-off)
My husband and I were eating in one of our favorite restaurants here in small town western Oklahoma (i.e., there’s not a lot of choices out here). Even though the variety of places to go is limited, we love knowing most everyone in the couple of really good places to eat. And all wives and moms know getting a meal out that you didn’t cook already (deceptively) makes it taste better!
If you know me, you know that I might ask odd questions. It doesn’t bother me a bit and I try really, really hard to sound respectful and polite. Even though Lorenzo would rather die a thousand deaths than inquire about some of the things I do, it doesn’t mean I can’t ask a question, right?
Oddly enough, I have asked THIS particular question in this specific restaurant five times now. It’s been a bit of an experiment. And let me say, I LOVE every single girl and guy who has helped us as a waiter so PLEASE know, regardless of the turn this story takes, I promise, we’ll still have date night at your eating place!
So, yes, it’s been a question I’ve asked five times, with trepidation, curiosity, and especially, because I want and need a truthful answer.
Here’s the question: Do you have REAL butter for my sweet potato?
(homemade butter from Jersey grass-cows, yum!)
Do you see any reason for my husband’s alarm? I mean, that’s an easy question to answer, right?
You’d be surprised. And remember, I said I still love this restaurant and the people there, I just want to make a point!
Here’s some of the different responses I received.
1. Sure! (They brought me margarine.)
2. Hmmm. Let me check and I’ll let you know. (They did check and they said they didn’t have any and they brought me margarine.)
3. I think we do! (They did check and they said they did have some and they brought me margarine.)
4. One person asked me why I would want butter. She wasn’t aware there was such a thing. (Just kidding. She knew there was such a thing, but was not sure why it should be in the kitchen of their restaurant.)
To be fair, I am inserting a teensy-weensy bit of sarcasm here, but for the most part, everyone who helped us those five date nights seemed to have literally no clue there was even a remote difference between butter and margarine.
So what’s the big deal, Jen? WHO CARES??
Hence, this blog.
Let me give you a short history of butter.
(And just as a disclaimer, remember I’m a mom of eleven and I’m not prone to 48 hours of research per blog, just a couple here and there. But seeing as we all have the internet now, we can cut to the chase pretty efficiently when digging for information. And I’m not a doctor either . . .just wanna throw that in there.)
Butter has been around for thousands of years. The word “butter” is derived from two Greek words, bous (cow) and turos (cheese). For these past few thousands of years, butter was a natural result from carrying milk and cream(pre-refrigeration/ice boxes, which have only been around about 200 years) in saddlebags where they were jolted around by horses or camels or whatever else they were riding (pre-cars, yep, only around 100 years . . .see where I’m going with this?). Butter (or cream, rather) has been considered a wonderful delicacy to different cultures worldwide, and can evolve into other delicious forms such as sour cream, whipped cream, and creme fraiche (which is the French’s favorite form of cream and I’m sure they think we Americans have no clue what is.)
Anyway, though I’m far from being a fantastic cook, I can get an undercurrent here, and that is the fact that butter has obviously been in a longstanding place of honor for eons of time.
Margarine (originally called oleomargarine) was commissioned financially by Napoleon in the late 1870’s to enable the masses to be able to afford something in butter’s place because of inflation. The French chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries created the margarine (spurred on by the large financial gift) and he made it out of beef fat, milk and salt. As margarine made it’s way to America, it’s make-up was changed from beef fat to vegetable oils.
(Anyone ever wondered why oil from corn and soybeans is called VEGETABLE oil? Ahem.)
So America literally went through about a hundred year tug-of-war over butter vs. margarine (not excluding the present). This included lobbying by the dairy industry, taxes, and regulations on margarine. This included laws that prohibited margarine-makers from dyeing the margarine a yellow color similar to butter (margarine was somewhat similar to the color of paste). Some states forced them to dye it pink. Guys, I am not kidding here. Oh, and I forgot. Other margarine companies packaged their margarine with an orange capsule of food coloring that you squeezed out and mixed in to create nice, yellow-looking margarine. (Eew.) Plus, they (whoever “they” is) said this stuff was GOOD for us. (Moms of the 60’s and 70’s, I am not criticizing you.)
Why the long, maybe somewhat boring history of a food item, for Pete’s sake?
Again, I want to make a point.
This little blog might not amount to a hill of beans where politics, legislation or butter/margarine makers are concerned. But maybe, somehow, it will help change a paradigm, slowly and surely. I want to make it simple enough that even one of my little ones can get it. No, I’m not out to crucify margarine eaters, far from it. I just want to see if there’s something we’re missing that might help us.
Butter has been around. It doesn’t have any chemicals/vegetable-grain oils/food coloring capsules/junk in it. It taste good. It works right when you cook with it. It can actually go bad, which is a good thing. It can’t sit on a shelf for 40 years and remain unchanged. And all of that to say, that probably means it’s good for us to eat! No matter where you get your information, especially about what you eat, at least take a second to hash through the garbage and find something that makes sense. Oh, that too. Butter makes sense. 🙂
Yes, I know it’s a little more expensive. But we’re not talking about brand name jeans or a movie ticket here. We’re talking about our bodies and what we put in them. They need the right fuel. Just to shock you, we go through 15 pounds of butter a month (plus what we get from our Jersey cows). And I’m a budget girl and a bit of a tightwad, but the butter category is money well-spent.
I could go on and on about the nutritional components of butter (you NEED healthy saturated fat!) or the craziness of authority figures in our country telling us what we should eat and what’s good for us. I won’t. (By the way, I do eat non-real food sometimes, so please don’t honk at me if you see me pull into Sonic!)
I just want our food to taste good. And I want it to be good for us. And it’s obvious by now.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
P.S. One of the motivations for margarine is it spreads easily. For butter that spreads easily, keep it in an airtight crock or Pyrex dish and store in a dark cabinet. My German friend taught me this trick and she was shocked I didn’t already know it! 🙂
P.S.S. Here are some of my sources for the history of margarine. Also note this nice quote from the American Heart Association. (Really?? Very interesting. Bold type is my emphasis)
Recent studies on the LDL cholesterol-raising effects of trans fat have raised public concern about the use of margarine and whether other options, including butter, might be a better choice. Butter has a high amount of saturated fat and some trans fat, whereas many hard margarines contain a high amount of trans fat in addition to saturated fat. Both of these bad fats can raise your blood cholesterol and contribute to atherosclerosis. The best choice for your health is a liquid margarine or a soft margarine in a tub. These are made with less partially hydrogenated fat than hard stick margarine. Look for margarines that are free of trans fat.