This week, we have facts about margarine. One hundred forty years ago this week, a French chemist won a prize from Napolean III for inventing a cheap, stable butter substitute.
CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living On Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
[MUSIC: American Brass Band, "La marseillaise" NATIONAL ANTHEMS (Delta Music, 1989)]
CURWOOD: In 1862, the Emperor of France was having problems feeding his army. He needed cheap food with a long shelf life that required little refrigeration. So Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could create an inexpensive butter substitute. Chemist, Hippolyte Mege-Mouries took up the challenge and concocted the world’s first margarine, with a blend of beef suet, skim milk, and a bit of chopped cow’s utter for taste. It might not sound like something you’d spread on your toast, but oleomargarine was good enough to win the Emperor’s prize. On the other hand, it was the only entry.
Margarine spread to the U.S. in 1873. The dairy industry wasn’t pleased to see margarine luring away butter consumers and lobbied to restrict the product. Some states banned it completely and Congress imposed a heavy tax. But when World War II came along, dairy shortages spiked butter prices and margarine’s day finally came.
Over the years, the animal fat in margarine has been replaced by vegetable oils. The debate continues today as to whether margarine or butter is better for you. Margarine is low in cholesterol, but can contain hydrogenated oils, which also promote heart disease.
The margarine industry is trying to make its product healthier and that might benefit the average American who eats over eight pounds of margarine every year.
And that’s this week’s Living on Earth Almanac.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth