Dinner With The Omnivore

Diesel and dead dogs #1 – margarine

Posted on: May 25, 2010

Emperor Louis Napoleon III

Napoleon III - poisoning the peasants

In 1869, according to that modern Delphic oracle Wikipedia, Emperor Louis Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a butter substitute ‘suitable for use by the armed forces and the lower classes’. French chemist and part-time amoral mad scientist Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés, being presumably short of a bob or two at the time, duly produced some kind of industrial filth which he called oleomargarine. Well, thanks Louis Napoleon. Thank you so very much for that gift to corporate Big Food, just what the rest of us needed, I don’t think.

To their credit, the French ‘lower classes’ proved resistant to the idea of eating something cooked up by a fruitcake wielding a chemistry set, preferring to stick to foodstuffs produced by actual farmers using modified mammal sweat, so Hippolyte sold the idea to the Dutch. All of which tells you what you need to know about the merits of food culture in those places.

Nowadays, margarine may be made by passing hydrogen through oils in the presence of a nickel catalyst. Does that sound like any kind of sensible food-production process to you? No, me neither. In fact, if you’d told me it was a way of making fertiliser I would have seen no reason to argue.

I don't think so.

Butter, on the other hand, is made by shaking cream about so that all the fat sticks together. It contains butterfat and possibly salt if you like it that way. As a butter eater you have no need to disturb your breakfast by wondering what potassium sulphate and acidity regulators are and whether or not it’s a good idea to put them in your mouth.

But despite all this, margarine and its deviant derivatives continue to sell to people who have been suckered into believing that it is somehow ‘healthier’ than butter. It’s not sounding ‘healthy’ to me, what with all the hydrogen and nickel. It certainly doesn’t taste healthy. (I can say this for certain, having eaten a ginger biscuit made with half butter and half marg after JC ran out of butter half way through the process. It tasted like something you should be putting on a bike chain, not using in food.)

No, it isn't.

In fact, manufacturers are more or less admitting that the stuff tastes like ming by mixing it with butter and giving it names like ‘Utterly Butterly’ and ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!’ (complete with exclamation mark) in a bid to convince people that they really aren’t eating engine oil. It’s margarine, everyone. It’s still made of diesel and dead dogs, even if they’ve ruined perfectly good butter by putting that in there as well.

french butter

Now that's better. Someone pass the crumpets.

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2 Responses to "Diesel and dead dogs #1 – margarine"

One thing that I find interesting about margarine is that until 2008, it was illegal to sell yellow margarine in the province of Quebec. Wanting people to distinguish between margarine and butter, margarine had to be sold in as a colorless substance, rather than a yellow like in butter.

That was the case in various times and places – in fact the sale of margarine was actually banned in Canada at one point. Quite right too, if you ask me!

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