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At long last, margarine freedom
July 11, 2008 1:05 AM   Subscribe

Quebec Margarine War Ends! For 21 years Quebec has regulated the colour of margarine, insisting it be distinctly lighter or distinctly darker than butter... The stated reason has been to protect consumers from unscrupulous restaurateurs selling margarine as butter. The real reason was to protect the province's politically influential dairy industry.

However, yellow margarine may soon be allowed in Quebec grocery stores after the province's cabinet quietly agreed to change a 21-year old law that forbids any coloured form of the oily spread to be sold in La Belle Province. Quebec has decided to butter up margarine critics, despite concerns the colour change could lead to confusion among consumers.

Detailed backgrounder here, and here, with interesting subheaders such as Margarine debate handed to provinces and Margarine companies fight back.
posted by KokuRyu (59 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, bans on any colour in margarine were widespread in the US for many years, and there were also laws requiring it to be dyed pink, or other colours. Manufacturers resorted to including a capsule of yellow dye with uncoloured marge, for consumers to add by hand. All part of the war on margarine.
posted by Phanx at 2:09 AM on July 11, 2008


The stated reason has been to protect consumers from unscrupulous restaurateurs selling margarine as butter. The real reason was to protect the province's politically influential dairy industry.

Because those companies that sell butter substitues would never act like those companies that label colored, sugary water "juice drink".
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 AM on July 11, 2008


No matter what color it is, margarine is pure evil. How else could you explain that it held large swaths of the US south in its iron grip? I grew up (in Alabama) eating the awful stuff: somehow the purveyors of that foul spread had everybody hoodwinked into thinking it was better for you than butter, my parents included. For years and years, margarine was all you could get in southern restaurants (I don't know about the rest of the country: maybe sanity prevailed elsewhere). Margarine is disgusting, and if I was in the Quebec legislature I'd have insisted that it be dyed electric lime green. Then banned forever.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:22 AM on July 11, 2008 [11 favorites]


So what you are saying is that you like a big scoop of margarine on your pancakes? j/k.

I had a boss who grew up in a dairy state. Her family snuck their pre-dyed yellow margarine across the border from a state where it was legal into their home state. Don't ask me why, but they preferred it to mixing the dye in themselves.

I thought in the south you use bacon fat instead of margarine?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 AM on July 11, 2008


As I student I once had no butter and tried to make a Hollandaise Sauce using the equivalent weight in margarine instead. It did not end well.
posted by rhymer at 2:36 AM on July 11, 2008


Margine is pure evil - they shodul never allowed it to be dyed yellow anyway.
posted by mary8nne at 2:42 AM on July 11, 2008


Where I grew up, distributors were required to label it with "Believe it's not butter."
posted by pracowity at 2:56 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


It did not end well.

Didn't begin well either it seems....
posted by three blind mice at 3:15 AM on July 11, 2008


Don't mind me, I'll be in the corner over here, vomiting.
posted by Skorgu at 3:21 AM on July 11, 2008


Margarine is vile and disgusting. It should be dyed black.
posted by snofoam at 4:18 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fats ranked by awesomeness:

1) Bacon fat
2) Coconut oil
3) Butter
4) Olive oil
5) leaf lard
6) lard
7) shmaltz
8) Avocado oil
....
99) Mutton grease
....
200) Margarine
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:33 AM on July 11, 2008 [13 favorites]


A few years ago I figured out that the butter prices in consumer grocery stores in the US are quite inflated, often 2x or more, and they don't go generally go down even when supply is up. It'll be $4+ at Safeway, and $1.30-$1.70 at Cash & Carry.
posted by blasdelf at 4:47 AM on July 11, 2008


The stated reason has been to protect consumers from unscrupulous restaurateurs selling margarine as butter. The real reason was to protect the province's politically influential dairy industry.

Shocking that legislation enacted for the benefit of a favoured industry would be sold under the guise of consumer protection.

Margarine. Yuck.
posted by Kwantsar at 5:09 AM on July 11, 2008


The stated reason has been to protect consumers from unscrupulous restaurateurs selling margarine as butter.

That's an AWESOME reason. I would imagine most sandwich shops/cafes where I am use margarine, and I'm sure when the staff ask me "you want butter?" they are using the word "butter" interchangably with "margarine". Sometimes I would say "yes, I would, but that stuff there isn't butter, is it? Do you actually have any butter?" and make the sandwich maker's brain aspolde. I would be ELATED if we had a law stating that margarine must be clearly distinguishable from butter. I demand a NEW margarine war!

NEVAH FORGET!
posted by goshling at 5:14 AM on July 11, 2008


Having grown up in Quebec I can say that white margarine is gross. The rest of you don't know how good you have it with that unnatural yellowy colour, delicious.
posted by derekpaco at 5:46 AM on July 11, 2008


That's an AWESOME reason. I would imagine most sandwich shops/cafes where I am use margarine, and I'm sure when the staff ask me "you want butter?" they are using the word "butter" interchangably with "margarine". Sometimes I would say "yes, I would, but that stuff there isn't butter, is it? Do you actually have any butter?" and make the sandwich maker's brain aspolde. I would be ELATED if we had a law stating that margarine must be clearly distinguishable from butter. I demand a NEW margarine war!

I remember asking for butter at a movie theatre a long time ago and the staff burst out laughing and said "You mean golden topping?".
posted by srboisvert at 5:53 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree that margarine is terrible. But the idea of pink margarine is strangely attractive; kind of vaunting its artificiality, in your face, the unashamed slutty whore of spreads...
posted by Phanx at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2008 [8 favorites]


Ahem! Ahem!
Me mother has gone to church!
She told me not to play with you because you're in the dirt
It isn't because you're dirty
it isn't because you're clean
It's because you have the whooping cough and eat margarine!

(From the Children's Medley by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem (It's at 2:27))
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 6:10 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Margarine is bad and gross and nobody should eat it. My grandfather said that back in his day, they used to call it axle grease.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:15 AM on July 11, 2008


"You mean golden topping?"

That is *beyond* wrong.
posted by goshling at 6:19 AM on July 11, 2008


BrotherCaine, you blasphemously do not include duck fat in your top 8. I hereby sentence you to margarine.
posted by desuetude at 6:23 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


You are correct, duck fat should be somewhere in there between 6 and 9. French fries made with horse fat probably should put horse fat up in the top 10, but I haven't had the pleasure of tasting it yet. Also, I should have put 'gator fat in at 201.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:29 AM on July 11, 2008


But what about those so called 'heart health' spreads that do not use hydrogenated butt grease. Are these flax and soy contraptions anything worth their claims?
posted by Gungho at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2008


Are these flax and soy contraptions anything worth their claims?

Not if they're mass produced in a factory by some automated concoctions.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:53 AM on July 11, 2008


Local family owned two-screen cinema -- showing matinees for $4.50 -- offers butter, real actual melted butter ladled from a small heated vat, on their popcorn, for 50c extra. It's wonderful. It's like it's 1976 all over again. I wish they'd show Star Wars. I really do.

hmm. Coffea arabica infusion with drosophila. Time to put in the screens.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2008


Napoleon III commissioned the services of chemist Mège Mouriès to develop [margarine].
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:57 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


What about taint butter? "You'll never believe it. Taint butter."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2008 [5 favorites]


How well I remember the day the Bureau of Topping Purity came for my Miracle Whip8482.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:03 AM on July 11, 2008


Two things:
1. goose fat makes the best fries I've ever had (Paley's Place - Portland, OR)
2. I think that in Oregon, margarine used to have to be served in a different shape from butter in restaurants (triangle, maybe?), as the 'pat' was associated with butter and could be used to defraud hapless diners. Which is ridiculous.

That being said, margarine seems pointless and disgusting next to the purity of fat that is butter. I don't think I've ever cooked with it and, unless in dire need, never will.
posted by Muttoneer at 7:05 AM on July 11, 2008


Y'all are completely insane. Margarine is fine, I eat it and use it for cooking and no one ever complains. Get over yourselves.
posted by nasreddin at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2008 [4 favorites]


Seeing that his eyes were empty under half closed lids,
Made it all the more disturbing knowing Benny hid
A bump that looked like clods of dirt inside a sickly lung
That barely peeked beneath his shirt and twitched like Toto's tongue.
For fifty cents inside a tent adjacent to the rest,
The weaker souls could hide their eyes while Benny bared his chest;
He rubbed the bump with oleo and little bits of meat
And stroked the shape as it extended down towards his feet.
posted by Nelson at 7:34 AM on July 11, 2008


They should have gone the other way and banned all food colorings in almost everything. I wonder what a lot of processed crap would end up looking like.

Remember when you see food colorings: why does your food have to plaster on the makeup like a trollop?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:38 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not if they're mass produced in a factory by some automated concoctions.

Really? Is that the problem? I have no problem with margarine. Of course you shouldn't cook with it. It is more healthy than butter, and if you can't taste the difference on toast or something, or are willing to deal with the difference it's a healthy decision. Just because it's a reminder that people are not living in a 19th century agrarian society doesn't mean it's actually *bad*.
posted by rhyax at 7:40 AM on July 11, 2008


I remember in 1980s Ontario, my grandparents' dinner table always had separate dishes for sticks of margarine and butter. One of the sticks was always a vibrant gold. It was a handy way to figure out which one had to go back in the fridge. I guess the manufacturers have since eased back on the yellow dye, since it's mostly that translucent waxy colour nowadays.

My favourite margarine memory, though, is when a friend and I--we must have been about 11 at the time--took a permanent marker and blacked out some choice letters on a tub of Country Crock his mother had just brought home. (I think we might even have videotaped it in the style of those commercials with the disembodied hands.) She was not amused.

I wouldn't say margarine is evil as such, but it is certainly not butter. Light margarine, however, is absolutely terrible. Put it on toast and it just puddles and soggies it up. Dreadful.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:43 AM on July 11, 2008


Oh, and hey, here's a tidbit of cynicism for ya: As strong as the Canadian dairy stranglehold may seem on this issue, it's probably safe to assume they're just evening out a tug-of-war started by Big Canola.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:54 AM on July 11, 2008


Reading that article was worth it for this line alone:
So, chapeau!, Premier Charest. You did the right thing. Keep at it!
chapeau! So awesome.
posted by crickets at 8:09 AM on July 11, 2008


Sys Rq: I wouldn't say margarine is evil as such, but it is certainly not butter. Light margarine, however, is absolutely terrible. Put it on toast and it just puddles and soggies it up.

That's because what makes it lite, fat-content-wise, is plenty of added water: et voilà ... fewer calories per gram.

In the early part of the 20th century the US had a similar law and it was illegal to sell colored margarine. Evidently it's natural color is white, like lard. Same reason, to protect the dairy industry. But American manufacturers, being more um...entrepreneurial than their Canadian counterparts, sold each and every package with a small packet of dye, so the purchaser could color it to look like butter.
posted by BlueMetal at 8:25 AM on July 11, 2008


I favor TheOnlyCoolTim's proposal: ban all artificial coloring and wait for people to look, in horror, at the true face of what they're eating.

Failing that I really do think margarine should be colored an obviously fake color (hot pink, electric blue, etc), but honestly most butter is artificially colored too. Fat is naturally white, and that includes butter.

nasreddin Nope, I'm not insane, I just have taste buds. Also, I'd like to know what you're cooking with margarine, 'cuz it won't work in well over 90% of recipes that call for butter. Yes, you can sautee in margarine (ugh), but that's not "cooking with margarine". Try making Hollandaise sauce with margarine, for example. Or even something simple like alfredo.

Hell, even baking doesn't work unless you juggle the recipe because a larger percentage of margarine is water than it is in butter and that'll make everything come out wrong unless you compensate.

And that's completely ignoring the taste issue, which is significant. Margarine simply tastes vile.

rhyax Actually it is a myth that margarine is healthier than butter. Neither one is particularly healthy (I love both Hollandaise and alfredo, but you can't eat them daily), and some evidence exists to suggest that what with all the hydrogenated vegetable oil margarine may be less healthy than butter.

But, honestly, I think the idea that margarine is somehow "healthy" may be damaging because it convinces people that they can slather everything with margarine and its ok. It isn't, its frickin fat. Like the twits who think that because olive oil is better for you than palm kernel oil that means you should just soak everything in it because "its healthy!"

Eat butter in moderation. It is no worse for your health than margarine (and may be better for you depending). The key word is "moderation".
posted by sotonohito at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


they're just evening out a tug-of-war started by Big Canola

I only buy good, honest Canadian canola spread myself. It tastes fine, it's significantly more healthy than butter, and you can actually bake with it. If that makes me a lackey for Big Agriculture, so be it. I've seen fields of canola growing across the state line in Wisconsin, but the only reliable source of the good stuff we have is Canadian, so Canadian it is for the time being. Just another reason to love the maple leaf.

Most other "healthy" spreads on the market rely on weird gels or emulsions or whatnot, or are strangely solidified olive oil. They're useless for actual cooking.

Corn-oil-based margarine, like they've made for decades, is pointless and not part of my diet. If I were going to eat that, I might as well eat butter anyway.
posted by gimonca at 8:53 AM on July 11, 2008


The only thing grosser than margarine is diet-margarine (or 'light').
posted by signal at 8:58 AM on July 11, 2008


The real reason was to protect the province's politically influential dairy industry.

But damn, they make some fucking incredible yogurt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2008


I don't remember when the war started, but I know where it ended for me; I was in a trench, the slowly cooling bodies of my friends on either side of me. I could see my enemy not a hundred feet away in a similar position, keeping his head down and not affording me an opportunity to send him to his strangely colored God.

I reached into my pack and pulled out what was left of my ammunition; a couple of slices of toast and a muffin. I'd been out here so long that all I had left was these few breadstuffs. I knew that one way or another, it was going to end for us here. I let loose with the toast, trying to force my enemy to keep down, unfortunately as I prepared to charge over the top, I took an entire loaf of French bread to the chest. I lay on my back I realized that I never even saw who threw it.

I heard screaming, and only when I realized that my throat was raw, I understood it was me. I blacked out and woke up three days later in the medical tent.

We all did things in that damned war that we don't like to talk about. I'm just glad it's over.
posted by quin at 9:22 AM on July 11, 2008 [6 favorites]


My wife and I have been using the sterol-enriched margarines like Take Control and Smart Balance for years now, even in cooking and baking. No, it's not exactly like butter but it keeps the cholesterol in check.
posted by Ber at 9:57 AM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


I favor TheOnlyCoolTim's proposal: ban all artificial coloring and wait for people to look, in horror, at the true face of what they're eating.

What's really funny about the Canadian margarine legislation is that butter is colored yellow to give it that "buttery" color that everyone thinks it has naturally. Of course, it only gets that color when the cows are being fed grass (which, given the short growing season in the frozen north, isn't for much of the year). So, if you banned all food coloring, your margarine and your butter would actually look pretty similar in color.

There's something wonderfully post-modern about the old Canadian coloring laws. Margarine couldn't be colored the "natural" color of butter because because people had to know that what they were eating wasn't "real." On the other hand, it was legal to falsify the color of butter so that people would know that it really was the genuine article. It's like something out of Borges.
posted by yoink at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2008


Margarine, despite its faults, is the weapon of choice for delicious grilled cheese sammiches. When you're loading up the bread with tomatoes and other vegetables, the last thing you need is butter making the bread soggy.
posted by anthill at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2008


Vegetables, anthill? In a grilled cheese? Blasphemy!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:06 AM on July 11, 2008


Tomatoes in grilled cheese is awesome. Apparently there is quite a bit of variation from the standard.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:03 AM on July 11, 2008


I've got to speak up for the Earth Balance. It is technically a margarine, and I once was technically a butter purist, but it's salty goldenness won over my tongue and my heart, and no longer do I believe that butter is the only true and right way.
posted by redsparkler at 11:17 AM on July 11, 2008


yoink Ummmm.... I pointed out that butter is artificially colored in the sentence right after the one you quoted.... Just sayin'
posted by sotonohito at 11:21 AM on July 11, 2008


Oh, god, yoink and sotonohito, it would be so awesome if there could be a flame war in this thread about margarine... Heh.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:47 AM on July 11, 2008


I didn't know about this at all, but it's interesting.

When I was a kid growing up, my mom would tell me about when margarine was first available in the US. You could only get it in clear plastic packets and it was colorless. Sealed inside the packet there was a yellow dye packet that you had to break open, and then moosh around inside the margarine packet to get it all butter colored.

To this day, my mom (who just turned 87) still calls margarine "Olio", which was the brand name used.
posted by Relay at 12:08 PM on July 11, 2008


For years and years, margarine was all you could get in southern restaurants (I don't know about the rest of the country: maybe sanity prevailed elsewhere).

I experienced a similar phenomenon the first time I tried coffee in the Great Plains. There's like a crappy coffee forcefield that starts in the middle of Iowa and continues until Colorado where, nine times out of ten, the native population you encounter will simply not get coffee. I just couldn't understand it. There are specialty shops, of course, where you'll pay twice the price for half as much, but even then you will have a hard time finding real cream to go with it.

Oh sure, there's plenty of creamer, which only sounds half as disgusting and pornographic as it tastes (I don't trust any cream that doesn't absolutely require refrigeration). And yet, drive around the vast fields and what do you see? Cows. Everywhere cows. Of course, those were meat cows, not milk cows. But still.

Personally I think this new law has done the Canadian people an enormous disservice. Now how will consumers be able to tell if they're getting real food or some alien-grown monstrosity? Margarine is foul stuff, every bit as bad for your arteries as butter--if not more so. And I laugh at any suggestion that you can actually cook with the stuff. At least your body recognizes butter as a fellow animal-product and knows what to do with it. But margarine? Might as well be ingesting floor wax.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:12 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


hurf durf margarine eater
posted by oaf at 12:16 PM on July 11, 2008


But American manufacturers, being more um...entrepreneurial than their Canadian counterparts, sold each and every package with a small packet of dye, so the purchaser could color it to look like butter

I grew up in Quebec. We didn't use margarine at home, but I'm pretty sure I remember people squeezing yellow dye into margarine at friends' houses. We travelled a lot, though, so maybe I'm remembering something that happened in the United States.

Tangentially, I also remember a song involving margarine. But it wasn't from Quebec, it was from a different stretch of childhood in the UK. Anyone know this?

"Marge, marge, margarine...
Beans, beans, a little round tin,
Sauce on top and in between
Jam is jam and always plum and ever more shall be so."
posted by tangerine at 12:17 PM on July 11, 2008


Wait, aren't we all against trans fats nowadays? Isn't that all margarine is?

With regard to non-cheese foodstuffs in grilled cheese, the first documented grilled cheese sandwich contained ham and I believe tomatoes and/or onions. There's a letter in a Reader's Digest or other such fishwrap from a housewife extolling her discovery. Apparently her husband had come home from his hard day of breadwinning, and after fixing him his martini just as he liked, she realized to her eternal shame that she had neglected to go to the store and restock the fridge, thereby failing not just as a wife, but as a woman and a human being. She certainly couldn't go out now, not now that he was home and her job was to entertain him ("entertain", perhaps? IIRC, she had remembered not to run low on Lysol). So she took the 2 remaining slices of bread, a hunk of ham which she sliced, and a tomato, and a bit of cheese, and grilled it up, calling it a "grilled cheese sandwich". There was only enough for the husband, so she went to bed hungry but with dignity.
posted by vsync at 2:16 PM on July 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hey sotonohito, sorry about that. I thought I was just elaborating on your point--I didn't mean it to come across as trying to correct you.
posted by yoink at 2:21 PM on July 11, 2008


Phanx writes "But the idea of pink margarine is strangely attractive; kind of vaunting its artificiality, in your face, the unashamed slutty whore of spreads..."

Margarine in Manitoba used to be coloured blue.

BlueMetal writes "But American manufacturers, being more um...entrepreneurial than their Canadian counterparts, sold each and every package with a small packet of dye, so the purchaser could color it to look like butter."

They did that in Canada too. I remember my Aunt had some kind of issue with having to mix it and margarine was uncoloured at her place.
posted by Mitheral at 4:29 PM on July 11, 2008


All this butter / margarine talk, and not one Fabio reference.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:12 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Americans are fuckin' weird about their butter.

I usually chalk it up to their love of being fat fucktards. What can you do.
posted by Super Hans at 1:44 AM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


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