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Better butter. January 10, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. I grew up eating butter. My beloved Mama thought margarine was horrid and unhealthful, so only real butter ever made an appearance in our house. Of course, I loved it. As Chef Didier says in the movie “Last Holiday,” “You and I know the secret to life… it’s butter.” I couldn’t agree more.

But butter began getting a very bad rep in the age of fat-free diets, when it was associated with high cholesterol and heart attacks. Even before that, health-oriented, vegetarian-friendly cookbooks like Laurel’s Kitchen provided recipes for “Better Butter,” mixing softened butter with polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower oil and refrigerating it so it would resolidify and could be spread on toast and the like like real butter. (I made “Better Butter” and it was fine, if a bit “slipperier” than butter.)

Now, however, the outrage over the health concerns of trans-fats, widely used in margarine and other commercial butter substitutes, and new research on the health effects of butter have brought it back into the spotlight. Americans in 2012 consumed 5.6 pounds of butter per person, and everyone from chefs to nutritionists are touting its benefits—in moderation, of course.

“Moderation” being a relative term. If 5.6 pounds of butter a year sounds like a lot to you, consider this statistic: Prior to 1935, the average American consumption of butter was 18 pounds a year. Which means that half of us ate more than 18 pounds of butter every year! Butter consumption dropped due to a combination of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, when margarine was introduced as a cheap alternative to a populace whose butter supply had been cut off.

Let’s compare this to the average consumption of sugar in the U.S., including all forms of sugar, such as the notorious high-fructose corn syrup. Two hundred years ago, the average American consumed just 2 pounds of sugar a year. By 1970, that number had risen to 123 pounds; today, it’s nearly 152 pounds per person. That puts butter’s 5.6 pounds in perspective, doesn’t it?

I think we’d be best off cutting our sugar consumption rather than obsessing over our use of butter. If you’re worried about butter’s health effects, buy organic butter, or butter from cows that aren’t fed GMO grains and corn and aren’t injected with bovine growth hormones and antioxidants. Then relax and enjoy in moderation!

‘Til next time,




1. Becca - January 14, 2014

Wow. I believe that butter consumption is better for us than sugar consumption. I am simply astounded at the relatively miniscule amount of sugar consumed 200 years ago. Can that number possibly contain honey or sugar beets or anything else like that?

Hey, Becca! I totally agree, healthy fats may add calories, but they don’t contribute to the host of sugar-related ailments, such as metabolic syndrome. (Exceptions are days-old deep-fryer fats in restaurant fryers that turn toxic and/or carcinogenic; yikes.)

Sugar was a huge luxury throughout most of human history, mostly derived from fruits and the occasional discovery of wild beehives. Sugar-beet production was a relatively recent development, and cane sugar was a slave-produced Caribbean crop that commanded premium prices; even honey didn’t become an industry in the U.S. until the “Sue Bee” era.

From Colonial times through the 19th century, sugar was sold in hardened cones to the very well-to-do, who secured the cones in locked safes (like their tea safes) and cut off fragments of sugar with sugar clips. Sugar, like white flour, was associated with the aristocracy, and caused every manner of ill in that class, from rotten teeth to obesity and early death. The working classes were so lucky not to be able to afford it! Unfortunately, now it’s cheap and available to all, and is rampant in almost every processed food in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, which of course is made from GMO corn. (Thank you, Monsanto.) This is yet another argument for eating organic, unprocessed, non-GMO foods and limiting sweets to fruits and fruit-based products (such as sweet breads made with homemade or purchased organic applesauce, apple butter, or another fruit butter).

Becca - January 16, 2014

Part of the reason for my surprise at the low number is due to remembering that the Ingalls family bought brown sugar in 50 lb bags, on trips into town. Of course, I believe that bag had to last a good long while. I would bet that Europe had a higher sugar consumption, as beehives were fairly common in every garden–both for pollination and sweets! 🙂

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