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the Norwegian butter shortage
December 17, 2011 2:02 PM   Subscribe

The Norwegian Butter Crisis: An absurd dairy shortage and its very valuable economic lessons.
posted by flex (69 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is always olive oil.
posted by caddis at 2:03 PM on December 17, 2011


It's not nice to fool Mother Nature...
posted by GavinR at 2:13 PM on December 17, 2011


I read this story while eating some thin mints I made from a recipe requiring two sticks of butter.

These poor, poor people. No cookies for them. WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN.
posted by phunniemee at 2:14 PM on December 17, 2011


Way too glib opening sentence. Tasteless.
posted by ryrivard at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2011 [44 favorites]


I agree with that, ryrivard.
The rest of the piece was an explanation I hadn't seen put so succinctly elsewhere.
posted by flex at 2:18 PM on December 17, 2011


Friend of mine in Finland says they're having similar problems. "Oh, sure, we could go to Sweden, but we don't want inferior Swedish butter." is her take on it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:20 PM on December 17, 2011


Yeah, opening sentence pissed my off too. I think the key sentence is near the bottom:
.... Norwegians are accepting lower living standards than they might otherwise enjoy for the sake of a long-term strategy of not becoming a Saudi-style oil monoculture.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


In the meantime, Whole Foods in Chicago has ICELANDIC butter??? How is Iceland producing enough to export and why aren't they just exporting it to nearby Norway?
posted by melissam at 2:25 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that the butter tariffs are a direct consequence of Norway's firewalled resource profits. Many countries have restrictions and odd rules when it comes to dairy products, mainly because of the political clout of dairy farmers. Rural voters are a formidable interest group.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"If Norway can’t make enough butter for everyone to slather on their eller mørkt rugbrød"
Tip: if you google for "norwegian bread" and cut and paste from the first result, don't copy the "or".
posted by you at 2:32 PM on December 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


Remarkably insensitive leading sentence, indeed. For shame.

Then, there's this
"Back in the spring of 2010, for example, when the Eyjafljallajökull eruption stranded Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in New York, there was much joy over the spectacle of him calmly running the country via iPad from his hotel room. "

Eyjafljallajökull is in Iceland, not in Norway.

So the writer is tasteless, as well as ignorant. And that's where I stopped reading.
posted by seawallrunner at 2:33 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Many countries have restrictions and odd rules when it comes to dairy products, mainly because of the political clout of dairy farmers. Rural voters are a formidable interest group.

Indeed
posted by TedW at 2:38 PM on December 17, 2011


seawallrunner: "Eyjafljallajökull is in Iceland, not in Norway."

Apart from not spelling Eyjafjallajökull correctly, the article doesn't say that it is in Norway. I don't know if it's your misplaced outrage clouding your memory, but that eruption disrupted plane travel to and from almost all of Europe.
posted by brokkr at 2:39 PM on December 17, 2011 [26 favorites]


Eyjafljallajökull is in Iceland, not in Norway.

Why can't the Norwegian PM be stranded in NY due to an Icelandic volcano? I only skimmed through TFA and I'll agree it is spread pretty thin, but I don't see anything wrong with this particular bit.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:41 PM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I only skimmed through TFA and I'll agree it is spread pretty thin

ಠ_ಠ
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:48 PM on December 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Eyjafljallajökull is in Iceland, not in Norway.

So the writer is tasteless, as well as ignorant. And that's where I stopped reading.


The Eyjafjallajökull eruption shut down air traffic across much of Europe and North America for some time. Don't you remember the "I hate Iceland" guy?

Speaking of which, there was an Icelander offering to sell Icelandic butter to Norway for an inflated price on some flea market website, pretty much as a joke, but it got me wondering - even without butter, do they not have cream, whipping machines, and salt? Boom, you got butter.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:57 PM on December 17, 2011


Reminds me of the German tradition of the Butterfahrt, during which people bought butter duty-free in Denmark in a boat that merely touched down in Danish waters.
posted by mynameisluka at 3:00 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how TIne had managed to be protected within the EEA, but it seems Norway has a simple opt–out for dairy products as part of the agricultural sector.
posted by Jehan at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2011


Reminds me of the German tradition of the Butterfahrt

Doesn't sound like a tradition I could get behind.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:03 PM on December 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Wow, Yglesias needs a real editor. That opener is unbelievable.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:12 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of the German tradition of the Butterfahrt

Doesn't sound like a tradition I could get behind.


Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2011


A butter message to the USA!
posted by jimmythefish at 3:14 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking as a Norwegian expat, the very valuable economic lesson probably is that when all people's big problems are solved, they'll start whining about the small ones.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:20 PM on December 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


I've been using Danish butter exclusively for a few years, and now I find out about Smjör icelandic butter?

Check out the amazing chocolate topping recipe on their site.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2011


This was covered in Scandinavia and the World, a comic about the relationships and stereotypes among the Scandinavian counties.
posted by pseudonick at 3:27 PM on December 17, 2011 [16 favorites]


Thanks for the link to Scandinavia and the World. I am now thoroughly enjoying learning random Scandinavian trivia as well as just cute little scenes.
posted by lizarrd at 4:23 PM on December 17, 2011


Speaking as a Norwegian expat, the very valuable economic lesson probably is that when all people's big problems are solved, they'll start whining about the small ones.

There was comment from a US citizen on a UK political debate at the end of the 1960s which became very involved over the price of eggs. Their comment was along the lines of, "what a country, where there is nothing more serious to worry about than eggs!"
posted by Jehan at 4:27 PM on December 17, 2011


This was on NPR a few weeks ago: How To Avoid The Oil Curse.

The Scandinavians really know how to do socialism.
posted by Xoebe at 4:39 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the "valuable economic lesson" here is that not becoming a petro-state may occasionally cause citizens minor inconvenience, umm, duh. Norway is short on butter, how do they sleep at night? On a bed of money.
posted by mek at 4:55 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heh, I stopped by my nearest supermarket yesterday to buy some beer and cigarettes, but as I was making my way towards the cash register it occurred to me to check the dairy products coolers (because there hadn't been any butter there for six weeks), and oh hallelujah! There is Belgian butter, there is French butter, there is Swedish butter. So I bought a couple of pounds of each, and that is my early Christmas present for my 7-types-of-cake-obsessed Christmas-is-the-most-important-thing-in-the world aunts. There will be much rejoice.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:00 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Scandanavian sense of humor is an acquired taste, obviously. Butter shortage? Hahahaha.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 5:04 PM on December 17, 2011


Nobody has said “Hurf durf butter eater” yet? You’re disappointing me, MeFi.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 5:06 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would have expected a country like Norway to have a protected market for something like butter, so to me this isn't surprising at all.

It's a decent article, once you get past the fact that it didn't deliver on the headline's promise of absurdity.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:09 PM on December 17, 2011


Friend of mine in Finland says they're having similar problems. "Oh, sure, we could go to Sweden, but we don't want inferior Swedish butter." is her take on it.

Yeah, there is a lot of butter nationalism in Scandinavia. I LOVED the butter in Sweden. It tasted much better than most US butter, though I've been buying Kerrygold since I came back to the US and I love that too. Some Swedish people told me that they looked down on Danish butter for some reason.

The best part about Sweden is you can buy something called Gammaldags mjölk (old fashioned milk) that is so ridiculously fatty that a crust of butter forms on the top. I've bought a lot of fancy farmer's milk in the US, but never encountered anything like it.
posted by melissam at 5:47 PM on December 17, 2011


Thanks for the link. The article is informative, though the tone does seem all over the place. I didn't think there was anything "absurd" about the notion that Norway has a butter shortage, for the very clear reasons laid out (small country = not much margin for error + a bad season = no output; okay). But the trade-off seems to be quite a rational one: Sweden can buoy an entire industry, which will allow people to support themselves and generate economic activity that stays within the nation, and in return, people have to go without butter for a week or two every few years? And indeed the article seems eventually to come around that maybe this is not such a bad model.

Contrast the American situation: More butter than anyone would ever want, from all over the world, probably tons of it going bad and getting tossed every year, yet it's the kind of basic luxury that's becoming unaffordable to more and more people all the time.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 6:12 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody has said “Hurf durf butter eater” yet?

Here you go: Hürf dürf büttër äëtër.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:19 PM on December 17, 2011


No, wrong country. It should be: Hårf dørf bøtteræter.
posted by Dumsnill at 6:22 PM on December 17, 2011 [21 favorites]



Wow, Yglesias needs a real editor. That opener is unbelievable.


I've read Yglesias since he was at The Atlantic, then Think Progress, and now at Slate (though less frequently, because I don't like Slate). More than most policy writers he's a blogger first and foremost and it really shows. I wouldn't be surprised if his arrangement with Slate involves minimal editorial oversight and an emphasis on quantity of posts, rather than length and polish.
posted by ghharr at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2011


Yeah, same thing going on in Finland. What the article doesn't mention is that a common explanation given is the low-carb diet trend.
posted by Anything at 6:23 PM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the link to Scandinavia and the World. I am now thoroughly enjoying learning random Scandinavian trivia as well as just cute little scenes.

Seconded. That comic deserves and FPP of its own, pseudonick. Now I know what Vikings have to do with the British love of male drag humor.
posted by Diablevert at 6:24 PM on December 17, 2011


.. plus the recent health concerns (real or not) associated with more processed fats like margarine.
posted by Anything at 6:27 PM on December 17, 2011


Subsidizing agriculture and saving oil money in the Pension Fund are not two sides of the same coin. The article promises to explain "the reasons for adopting these rules in the first place", but resorts to unfounded speculation. If Yglesias looked into it, I think he'd find more "old-fashioned interest-group lobbying" and less rational economic planning than he suggests. The Center Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, used to be called "the farmers' party". Protecting farmers and fishermen is a big reason why Norway isn't in the EU.
posted by simen at 6:30 PM on December 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anything - I heard about this butter shortage in passing on The Colbert Report, which the piece links, and that clip indeed gives (and mocks, of course) the "low-carb diet trend" explanation. I was therefore interested in a more in-depth and thoughtful explanation to counteract the easy jokes (although, as I mentioned above, I was put off enough by the opener that I left it in another tab on my browser and didn't read the whole thing until this afternoon).
posted by flex at 6:34 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


... soon enough foreign butter will flood the Norwegian market ...

Mmmmm, butter flood.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2011


Japan went through a butter shortage a couple years ago. It was freaking annoying. It was almost impossible to find butter for a couple months. My clogged arteries go out to the fine people of Norway.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:37 PM on December 17, 2011


melissam, the Icelandic Holstein (dairy cow) herd is interesting in that there are pedigrees complete to the foundation of the population.

The milk you had may not have undergone homogenization, which is a process that reduces the fat particles in the milk to a uniform size small enough that they remain in solution, rather than separating overnight.
posted by wintermind at 6:47 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've bought a lot of fancy farmer's milk in the US, but never encountered anything like it.

Look for cream-top whole milk in glass bottles. Local co-ops sell it, as well as health food stores and some Whole Foods stores.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:55 PM on December 17, 2011


The milk you had may not have undergone homogenization, which is a process that reduces the fat particles in the milk to a uniform size small enough that they remain in solution, rather than separating overnight.


Yes, I'm a regular consumer of cream-top/non-homogenized/farmer's milk, but it must be slightly lower in fat here. Perhaps they are using a breed that has a milk with higher butterfat content. I am going to look for Jersey milk because I've heard the butterfat content is much higher than normal.
posted by melissam at 8:28 PM on December 17, 2011


"In the meantime, Whole Foods in Chicago has ICELANDIC butter??? How is Iceland producing enough to export and why aren't they just exporting it to nearby Norway?"

Dear god, my heart just skipped a beat.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 8:52 PM on December 17, 2011


I just can't believe how short short term memories are if people have forgotten how Iceland's volcano paralyzed flights across Europe. Remember a bunch of AskMes with people stuck in Spain and whatnot.

Joining in the "the author has no class" chorus
posted by infini at 9:00 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please, won't someone think of the lefse? Hopefully the brown sugar supply is not exhausted.
posted by zomg at 9:23 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The opening line is completely reprehensible. Was Matthew Yglesias trying for crass levity or is he really that insensitive?

As a Norwegian currently abroad, I find this crisis - and the coverage of it - quaintly amusing in light of the massive amounts of shit going on everywhere else in the world.

Oh, Norway. Stay safe.
posted by flippant at 12:29 AM on December 18, 2011


I guess it is time for Tine to to start a new ad campaign although no butter today does not have the same cachet as no milk today.
posted by hariya at 1:49 AM on December 18, 2011


Damn it, I mean to link to www.nomilktoday.no.
posted by hariya at 1:51 AM on December 18, 2011


That's cute with the Norway country indicator no.milktoday.no or no.butter.no
posted by infini at 2:25 AM on December 18, 2011


Enjoying Google Translate's take on the story in Aftonbladet, which ranges from competent to inspired, viz:


Stuck in Customs

With 30 pounds of butter in the bag and a few extra pounds in your hand luggage, we stopped at the security check at Landvetter Gothenburg.

The butter in the large checked bag is no problem. But the solid and fine quality Swedish butter in your hand luggage is classified as "liquid" and seized.

- You can always take it home to my wife, I sigh.
- I would get fired if I even tried, said the uniformed steak.

The weather is disgusting in Oslo. Dark, cold, stormy, rainy and butter poor.
But it's sort of a little sun and warmth in misery when Butter Help beats up his position outside Kaffebrenneriet on the main street Karl Johan.

- We have not had any problems with street drug dealing, the policeman says Iver Stensrud.
- We take them at the border, he says, and seeks, among other things, on the Russians that trick with 90 kilograms the other day.


More gems in the article itself.
posted by Devonian at 2:44 AM on December 18, 2011


The opening line is completely reprehensible. Was Matthew Yglesias trying for crass levity or is he really that insensitive?

So when was the last time Norway featured in US national news coverage? What, exactly, is so insensitive about mentioning it this time? Is it better to just pretend it never happened?

Please imagine you are explaining to someone who frequently doesn't understand why others are so offended by what are apparently simple statements of fact (eg. Sheldon from TBBT).
posted by robertc at 3:48 AM on December 18, 2011


Please imagine you are explaining to someone who frequently doesn't understand why others are so offended by what are apparently simple statements of fact (eg. Sheldon from TBBT).

I have a nagging feeling I'm feeding the troll here, but on the presumption you're on the level, then: Mentioning it is fine, and probably necessary. Dismissing it as "The occasional spree killing aside," is callous. Because as this comment, still highlighted on the sidebar, points out, this was a hugely traumatic event for Norway, and a quite recent one. It would be customary, when mentioning a recent tragedy of such magnitude for a society, to acknowledge its tragic nature. E.g., he could have said, "With the exception of this summer's tragic terrorist attacks by Anders Breivik," etc. "Occassional spree killing" is the language of the tabloid, a kind of sneering sensationalism.
posted by Diablevert at 5:34 AM on December 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Occasional spree killing"

Christmas is coming. In a pinch, substitute goose fat for butter.
posted by Wolof at 6:02 AM on December 18, 2011


I have a nagging feeling I'm feeding the troll here

No, I'm being straight up. I read the article and felt none of the, I'm not sure what the exact word is - distaste?, that has been expressed here about the opening sentence. The possibility exists that I'm just a callous individual, but I can't help that I don't feel it.
posted by robertc at 6:26 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile in Wisconsin, restaurants are required to use butter. In the 1960s, margarine smuggling was all the rage.
posted by desjardins at 7:27 AM on December 18, 2011


Do they still do that "add the yellow colour dye to the margarine" thing in Quebec?
posted by Meatbomb at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2011


Yes
posted by desjardins at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoarding is a part of the problem. Back in 2005, Finland had a toilet paper crisis: people were hoarding because of a strike at the toilet paper factories.

The butter crisis will be over in about two weeks. People use more butter during the Christmas season. Nobody bakes buttery cakes in January.

Anyway, here's the Taiwanese news animation om the Norwegians butter crisis. Also: how to make butter at the paint store.
posted by iviken at 7:52 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was contemplating sending my cousins a few pounds of Wisconsin butter as a joke, but now that I see there's a taste factor, looking down on other country's butter, well then forget it. I'm too often the poor, unconsciously deprived American cousin as it is.
posted by RedEmma at 8:50 AM on December 18, 2011


I was contemplating sending my cousins a few pounds of Wisconsin butter as a joke, but now that I see there's a taste factor, looking down on other country's butter, well then forget it.

Hear, hear. The whole point of being a snob about a particular thing is that this thing is in shorter supply than other things. Shortages comes with the territory.

And seriously: cream, salt, and a whisk. Has no one told them?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:31 AM on December 18, 2011


And seriously: cream, salt, and a whisk. Has no one told them?

Norwegian tv news showed how to make butter in a paint shaker. Video in the link.
posted by iviken at 9:48 AM on December 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So when was the last time Norway featured in US national news coverage? What, exactly, is so insensitive about mentioning it this time? Is it better to just pretend it never happened?

Please imagine you are explaining to someone who frequently doesn't understand why others are so offended by what are apparently simple statements of fact (eg. Sheldon from TBBT).

No idea what 'Sheldon from TBBT' is, but...imagine a Norwegian comment site writing about a bagel shortage in New York with the opener 'the occasional mass killing of civilians through terrorism aside, we don't see much about New York in our news broadcasts'. You see now? OK, I'm using prosaic license here given that we hear a lot about NYC in other countries, but the Oslo massacre had as enormous an effect on the country as 9/11 did in America, in much the same ways.

And aside from that, it's the kind of crappy line poor quality bloggers get to mine increased hits from the outrage reserves.
posted by mippy at 2:06 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, lack of italics there. I'm distracted by wondering whether it's worth bringing Swedish butter home when I go to visit if it's that nice...
posted by mippy at 2:06 PM on December 19, 2011


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