To the People

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Butter Me Up, While It is Still Legal

Time and place: Some time in the 80s on a Leonardo family car trip. [On car the radio is a story about the banning of smoking in office buildings and airplanes...]

Mother: I am so glad that smoking is finally being banned in some places. Smoking is so unhealthy.
Leo: But by that logic, the government should ban butter too.
Mother: (Condescendingly) Oh Leo, that would never happen, you are always so alarmist.

Well, we are not there yet, but the trans fat bans have inched us closer to that previous unfathomable reality, as an NY Times article today points out.
Matthew Reich is a baker dedicated to natural ingredients. He prefers butter in the cookies and brioche he turns out at Tom Cat Bakery in Long Island City, Queens, and like many professional cooks he applauds the public health effort to get artificial trans fat out of food.

But, in a twist of science, the law and what some call trans-fat hysteria, Mr. Reich and other wholesale bakers are being forced to substitute processed fats like palm oil and margarine for good old-fashioned butter because of the small amounts of natural trans fat butter contains.
Some history: trans-fats came into heavy use because public health advocates pressured outfits like McDonald's to stop frying with beef fat, which was deemed unhealthy at that time, so they switched to trans-fats. Now, the same public health lobby is causing food producers to use known artery-cloggers such as palm oil to be able to say their products are 100% trans-fat free. Starbucks is one of the companies pressuring them to do so, according to the article, which is a great read, btw.

[Ironically, also today a big Stanford research study came out that concludes that people on the fat-rich Atkins diet stay thinner and, more to the point, have significantly lower rates of bad cholesterol and higher rates of the good ones than do people who keep to a low-fat diet. They also have lower blood pressure.]

What food group will be the next casualty? More from the NY Times article:
As processed food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants struggle to find new kinds of trans fat-free oils, and some bakers struggle over what to do about butter, the natural trans fat in meat has gone largely unnoticed. (Two ounces of ground beef would be over the limit.)

But nervous meat purveyors are starting to ask about it, especially as more and more city health officials push through trans fat bans, said Lynn Morrissette, senior director of regulatory affairs for the American Meat Institute.

“I have to believe that even if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s coming,” she said.

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