Sunday, January 1, 2012

Margarine, Regulation and Conventional Wisdom

Margarine has an interesting history: first it was seen as a boon to the masses, and a frightening competitor to the dairy farmers, then it turned into a heart-healthy alternative to butter and lard, and now seems to be going losing its credibility in the mainstream. Even my mother, a stalwart follower of conventional wisdom, has stopped buying margarine, even if she still buys skim milk.

Offering prizes is an awesome way to solve problems. Margarine came about because Napoleon III offered a prize for a cheap butter substitute, won by a guy with an unusual first name, Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès Okay, nowadays we know it is vile, unhealthy stuff, but it was a neat solution. And let's face it, no one, from peasant to royalty actually prefers the taste of margarine to the creamy goodness of real butter.

An interesting aspect in the history of margarine is all the government interference on behalf of this unctuous substance. To quote from Wikipedia:

By the start of the 20th century, eight out of ten Americans could not buy yellow margarine, and those that could had to pay a hefty tax on it. Bootleg colored margarine became common, and manufacturers began to supply food-coloring capsules so that the consumer could knead the yellow color into margarine before serving it. Nevertheless, the regulations and taxes had a significant effect: the 1902 restrictions on margarine color, for example, cut annual U.S. consumption from 120,000,000 to 48,000,000 pounds (54,000 to 22,000 t).

Of course, with the spread of the lipid hypothesis margarine, despite its inferior flavor, came into puritan vogue. And it still seems to be riding this crest of madness.

Patented to improve cholesterol ratio? I'm pretty sure that in 50 years time, this will seem as ridiculous as this:

Both claims are technically correct. Doctors preferring to smoke Camels doesn't strictly mean they are healthy and neither does obtaining a patent to supposedly improve cholesterol ratio, although I think the latter claim is slightly more nefarious.

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