Perhaps you saw it in the news. There has been a lot of excitement about butter in Canada in the past few days. It made the news headlines about all around the world. The butter in Canada seems to have become harder, and harder to spread over the past year or so. The blame seems to be about the use of palm oil in cow feed. This is interesting because it brings up some matters that I had addressed in my article on fats, earlier on in this blog (in particular read the sections about margarine vs. butter and how the fatty acids profile affects the physical quality of the product). Here are a couple of links about the “buttergate” in which you can find more details.
The funny thing is that I found butter to be a lot less enjoyable the first day I tried some almost when I moved in Canada 22 years ago. I do not think it was just me because right at the beginning of my stay here, I had been asked by a Canadian what I thought of the butter. He was asking me that because he had noticed that quite a few people he knew who had moved to Canada were complaining about the butter. I remember just answering something along the lines of “meh, not the best ever” and I had not paid too much attention to it after that. Yet, one of my neighbours in Vancouver had once started her own ranting about Canadian butter but she blamed the poor quality to the fact that, according to her, Canadian butter is frozen. I have never really tried to find out if it is always the case. Then, after I met the Canadian lady who is now my wife, I took her for trips to Europe about every year. Not only did she find all foods to taste much better there, she really developed an issue with Canadian butter in particular. And the issue has been –and still is- that the bloody thing is much stiffer at room temperature in Canada than the butter in my family in France even straight out of the fridge. One thing I know for sure is that in Canada there is 80% fat in butter, while in Europe it must be minimum 82%. Other thing I had noticed is how the Canadian salted butter is much more salty than in Europe. Anyway, I only buy unsalted butter. She has been adamant to go live in France since then. Food is one important reason for this move, and we are indeed making plans. The current Covid-19 pandemic has delayed this somehow but it is going to happen.
Personally, I have never been a fan of dairy in Canada. I find the butter, as mentioned, stiff and unpleasant to spread on bread. It also tends to break in a rough chunk instead of allowing me to cut all the way through when I cut a block out of the pound of butter to put on my butter dish, which makes the butter look like some frozen cottage cheese, which I always found weird and unappealing. I found Canadian cheeses tasteless and buttery. Ironic to see butter look like cheese and cheese loo like butter. Save me from blocks of cheddar or the likes of it. Actually, those would qualify more as butter to me than the butter. I cannot say anything good about Canadian attempts to make Brie or Camembert. Those have the softness and the appeal of hockey pucks. Not for me. Of course, I can find some imports, but the Canadian dairy sector has managed to get protection from the government and foreign cheese has import duties that make even the dullest Brie of Gouda about as expensive as precious metals. I seriously object paying 2 to 3 times what I consider the normal price of cheese. Along with dull quality, it is the same problem with bread, which is why I make my own, and the same why I make my own deli and grow my vegetables. So, since I am in Canada, I do not eat much cheese anymore. Milk is not any more attractive, either. I always found it somehow soapy and with a weird mouth feeling, not to mention that I really do not need to have extra vitamins in it, and even less so when it is added as a palmitate compound, which is… guess what… related to palm oil. So here it goes again. At least, something is consistent here. Perhaps, they want to feed us as much as palmitic acid as they can because palmitic acid is such a great saturated fatty acid that has this great characteristic that it tend to increase the level of LDL, so so-called bad cholesterol. Thank you Canadian dairy industry and Canadian government for the special care you give us. Ok that was sarcasm.
So, to sum up what is in my previous blog articles and in the two links I gave at the beginning of this article, palm oil is in cattle feed. It seems that the countries where this happens are Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, interestingly enough all Anglo-Saxon countries with a fabulous world-famous cuisine. Some gave us mad cows; others inject their cows with growth hormones. Great foods, because as they will tell you, they comply with government regulations, which we all know are pretty much developed under pressure of industry lobbies to maximize producers’ profits, but have the nation’s seal on it to give it this appearance of independence, objectivity and care for the people. The sad thing with this food system model is that in fact it is a failure. This kind of production exists only because it is subsidized to death and that all inputs to produce are also subsidized to death. If you look at what on average taxpayers pay to subsidise a system that cannot survive without help, you would realize that the price of food is not as cheap as it seems, but since it is in the form of taxes, it will not be counted in the relative percentage of the share of food in the total household budget, which industry always present as a reason why they do such a great job for society. Also not included in the price of food is all the externalities, which we could also called collateral damage costs, such as impact of health and health costs (think cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, diabetes and overweight related ailments), which happens when you cut corners on health for profit reasons.
I have spent many years in the food industry and I also know that the truth is in the middle. I have heard the criticism when I was in the system. Things are never as bad as the opponents claim and they are never as good as the industry claims. That said, deliberately transforming butter into something in the direction of margarine (the original kind which consisted of saturating fats) while the early margarine (not very good stuff by then from a fatty acid profile point of view) industry was trashing butter as unhealthy is almost surrealistic. By then, butter had actually a much more positive and healthy fatty acid profile then the early margarines and got blamed. Once the margarine industry realized that their stuff was not that great, they have done nothing else than copying the profile of the “original” butter. And now, we discover that the Canadian butter industry is doing exactly the opposite of what they should be doing from a health perspective. It is amazing how the quest for more profit impairs thinking. The industry is populated with lots of really good and bright people. The knowledge is there and has been for decades. Yet, and just for profit, it is almost all of that is put to sleep or forgotten, and it really always baffles me to see how the industry, time and time over, is giving its opponents sticks to beat them up. Although food is not as cheap as it means, but it seems deceivingly so at the price label point, I believe it would be much better for all of us if it were more expensive but made healthier and more nutritious, because I have noticed that real quality is much more satisfying and that I get more with lesser quantities.
Copyright 2021 – Christophe Pelletier – The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.