Because I Wrote About It

Margarine

Because I wrote about it, because I slipped it into several posts, because I even had a post titled “Oleo Olio”, I felt that I should set the record straight, and honor a local almost-hero.  The following is a reprint of an article in the Waterloo Region Record about margarine in Canada.  It is presented without their knowledge or permission, so, if I suddenly open a Patreon account for bail and lawyers, I hope that you will contribute generously.

THE MAN WHO MADE MARGARINE “SAFE”

Kitchener’s William Daum Euler championed butter substitute

Psst!  Want to buy some margarine?  Seventy years ago, that wasn’t a simple question.

As Canadians celebrate the legalization of marijuana this month, they may be forgetting that, just a few generations ago, this country was having a fierce debate about another controlled substance – that’s right, margarine.

Banned in Canada between 1886 and 1948, the oil-based butter substitute was once labelled a serious public health risk.  Its opponents vilified it, calling the spread a “compound of the most villainous character, which is often poisonous,” according to W.H.Heick, who wrote a book on the subject back in 1991.

Many people may remember mixing color packets into their margarine, since Ontario law used to require margarine only be sold in its natural white state.  But they may not know it was a tenacious politician from Waterloo Region who led the campaign to finally legalize it after the Second World War.

Margarine has had a complicated history since it was first created by French chemist Hippolyte Mėge-Mouriės in 1868, by churning beef tallow with milk.  Dairy producers, concerned about a cheaper, longer-lasting alternative to butter, lobbied hard to have it banned.

For decades, they succeeded, convincing law makers it was unsafe and unhealthy for consumers – and bad for their rural economy.  William D. Euler, a Liberal senator and former mayor of Kitchener, had the support of urban organizations like churches, unions and Boards of Trade, as he went to war for margarine.

As part owner of the Kitchener Daily Record, he pushed for editorials supporting the end of the ban.  In 1947, he introduced repeal legislation, and was met with fierce resistance from the dairy lobby.  He wrote letters to newspapers across Canada, pushing his position.  Polls suggested that half the country was behind him – and he leaned on women, veterans, and hospitals for support.

Many Canadians were already using and cooking with margarine, bought on the black market.  Often it was smuggled in from the Dominion of Newfoundland, where it was made from whale, seal and fish oil, by the Newfoundland Butter Company.

Newfoundland, which was still a British colony then, was busy churning out bootleg margarine at about half the price of butter.  Euler, who became the first chancellor of Waterloo Lutheran University, used legalization of margarine as a key bargaining chip in the negotiations with Newfoundland to enter into Confederation.

In November 1947, he got helped by a butter price increase, from 53 to 66 cents a pound, which only reinforced his campaign for a more affordable alternative.  In newspaper pages, town halls, and on Parliament Hill, the debate raged.  Senator James Murdoch accused the butter lobby of using “Communist tactics.”

“The wishes of 150,000 producers of milk had to give way to the desires of 13 Million consumers,” Heick wrote in his book, “A Propensity to Protect Butter – Margarine and the Rise of Urban Culture in Canada.”  The fight went to the Supreme Court, which struck down the ban, and left the control of margarine to the Provinces.  By this point, a poll suggested 68% of Canadians supported legalization – a shift in opinion owed in large part to Euler’s public relations campaign.

Ontario didn’t repeal its Oleomargarine Act until 1995, which made it illegal for companies to make or sell margarine that was colored yellow.  Quebec didn’t follow suit until 2008.  Margarine finally had equal footing with butter, at least in the eyes of the law.  And consumers had a senator from Kitchener to thank for it.

***

What??!  Businessmen would lie, and politicians would support them, for financial gain?  Tell me it ain’t so!  FAKE NEWS!  FAKE NEWS!  You can butter me up by stopping back again soon.  🙂

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Oleo Olio

Margarine

I never know where the next inspiration for a post will come from, especially my “Remember When” stories.  I am old enough, and was born in a small enough town, far enough off the beaten path, that I remember how things were, long before most of my readers were born.  I occasionally write about The Good Old Days, hopefully interesting and amusing a few good folk….

….So, the other day I wanted to put some margarine on a piece of toast.  I laid my left hand over the plastic tub, casually ran my thumb under the edge of the lid, and it popped right off.  We take packaging so much for granted, and have become so used to it.  Those lids can’t be taken off by grasping them firmly, and pulling straight.  The harder you grasp, the tighter they seal.  For as soft and fragile as they are, they would have had our ancestors of even a hundred years ago, looking for an axe or saw.

When the lid came off the first time, it was a two-handed, thumbs-working-in-opposite-directions move, because there was a sheet of plastic welded to the rim of the tub.  Squeeze bottles of salad dressing have plastic, heat-sealed over the lid, but even after you use a crowbar or flame thrower to remove that, you still have to twist off the cap.  Beneath that is yet another layer of plastic and cardboard that has to be removed.

When I was a lad….yeah, yeah, we know, grandpa – peanut butter came in too-easily-broken, glass jars.  You twisted off the cap, and dug into the peanut butter.  Actually, you probably got a knife and stirred it, because the non-homogenized stuff separated like milk, with the oil on top.  Nowadays, there’s another little cardboard and Mylar manhole cover under the cap – all these because some fool in Chicago wanted to get away with poisoning his wife with tainted Tylenol.  Back then, the boxes and bottles in the stores just opened up.  The cops caught him though.

Anyway, back to the margarine!  You thought you could distract me, eh??  Margarine was developed in the 1800s, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  Some years ago, when the elimination of CFCs was the cause du jour, I saw a woman on television who declaimed that, “If we could develop margarine, as a safe alternative to butter, we can develop a safe alternative to CFCs.”  The only problem with that is that it’s not true.  It wasn’t developed as a safe anything!

The first “margarine” was beef tallow, mixed with something like Worcestershire Sauce, horrible to eat, but it provided sufficient calories to prevent mine, mill and factory workers from fainting from hunger.  It gave the industrial barons the maximum labor for the minimum cost, sweethearts those guys.  History also has shown that the saturated fats in early margarine were as dangerous to health as butter, so the busy-body bitch was wrong, twice.

Here in Canada, the Milk Marketing Board, which was one small step less powerful than the American NRA, almost strangled margarine in its infancy.  They got a law passed that said margarine could not be marketed if it looked like butter, in every Province except Quebec, where they march to the tune of their own beret-wearing, red-wine-soaked piper.

They tried to market Marg in colors ranging from Kool-Aid orange, to cranberry red, but mostly just white.  I remember, as a kid, getting pound blocks of fish-belly-white stuff in cardboard boxes, indistinguishable from lard, except there was included a small paper envelope.  You tore the envelope open, sprinkled the colored powder on the block and stirred like hell in a bowl, till you got the familiar yellow.

Blue Bonnet came out with a plastic bag, similar to bagged milk.  On the inside of one of the flat sides was a little plastic ampule of liquid colorant.  You pinched it to burst it internally, then kneaded and mixed, kneaded and mixed, till it turned that golden buttery yellow.

I don’t know why we didn’t just eat the damned stuff white.  I guess this is where the self-psychology kicks in again.  I know I probably lose more calories and weight from body-heat loss in the summer than the winter.  In the winter, when it’s snowy and blowy outside, I wear underwear, socks, flannel track-pants, heavy tee-shirt and slippers – and the furnace has the house at 73 F.  In the summer, when it’s bright and sunny, I wear underwear, maybe socks, perhaps shorts, possibly a threadbare shirt, and slippers only if I have to go outside or down to the concrete basement floor – and the A/C has the house to 72 F.

In the mid-80s, the consuming public finally pried Milk’s thumbs off Margarine’s throat, and at last we could buy it in yellow.  The little frogs in Quebec had been making it like that for years, and they wanted to market it to the rest of Canada.

Initially, one pound tubs were not worth their while.  It was shipped in plastic bulk containers, like glass or metal baking dishes, 8 X 12 X 2 – five-pound trays, or 9 X 13 X3 – ten-pounders, with tight-fitting, snap-down flat lids.  (Sizes in inches for the metric crowd.  Americans, feel free to ignore the inevitable, and the rest of the world.)  Spatula or spoon it out into a serving dish.  Once empty and washed, they were handy nesting storage containers.  Years later, the wife and I still use them to protect those lovely Christmas cookies.

Soon, other Canadian, and American suppliers provided the easily-opened one-pound tubs, and I could have toast and margarine and peanut butter at the flick of a thumb.  And I will burn off those calories, because I’m sitting here typing this, wearing only a smile.

Tony

I was desperately trying to rub two brain cells together to produce a spark of inspiration for a theme for my next post.  I read KayJai’s blog about a death and a near-death of people she knew and how they had influenced her life.  Then I checked my emails, and found I had received a couple from Tony, and I knew I had my blog subject.

Tony and I worked together for almost twenty years at the auto-parts plant.  He was already employed there when I arrived.  Almost twenty years older than him, I was 45 when I started, so he was in his late twenties.  Like my own kids, who are near his age, I watched and helped him when I could, through some life stages.  I watched his daughters go to school and grow up.  I sympathised when he went through a divorce.

He put up a facade of hard-shell smart-ass, but inside, he was a nice guy.  When I was a newbie at the plant, he and his other friend took me under their wings.  Perhaps it was that I was intelligent, able to think, good with the English language, and full of opinions, just like them, and unlike many other co-workers.  Maybe it was just that they were both friendly people, willing to offer a little support.

In a plant where storage lockers were at a premium, they approached me, to offer to share space in a locker they were already splitting.  They provided conversation, support and advice on the line and invited me to sit with them at their table in the lunch room.  Soon, we were playing Euchre together.  The fourth person needed, changed over the years, but it was the three of us, till the second friend had increasing union business intrude on his time.  Tony learned to play Solo, and moved to a different table.  It’s crazy, I comprehend the principals of string theory, black holes, and quantum entanglement, but I just never got, Solo.

It’s not that Tony abandoned me.  We still spoke often.  We had beers after work.  We traded books back and forth.  Tony suffered from the same thing that Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter had, cluster headaches.  Not migraines, but debilitating pain, sometimes for weeks on end.  He went through two years of medical experimentation.  Three, four, five different drugs at once, change the dosage, add a new one, take one away.  Finally got it under control, and hurt his back.  He had to take a medical leave just as the shit was hitting the lay-off fan, and I was let go.

When Tony got divorced, between job retraining and more alone time, he became very proficient with a computer and the internet.  I haven’t seen him or spoken to him now, for almost five years.  I sent him an email about a year ago.  My memory fades, but he still remembers me.  When I finish this draft, I really need to send him a catch-up email.  There’s not a week goes by that he doesn’t send me something interesting, educational or amusing.  I never know what it will be.

He forwarded a study that says margarine is not good for you because it’s only one molecule away from plastic.  I don’t eat much marg, and plan to have myself cremated, so the flames will burn hot.  He showed me how to put myself on the do-not-call telemarketing list long before it became common knowledge.  Suggestions like always having the remote key-fob for your car out, and your finger on the alarm button, especially for females, if you have to get to your car in a parking area at night.  If you are attacked, you should have a split second to make the car raise a ruckus, and cause the attacker to leave.

He has sent me pictures of strange vehicles, strange buildings and strange weddings.  I’ve received pictures of sunsets and cuddly animals.  Despite the cynical shell, he’s a real softy underneath.  He supports the troops, if not our military involvements.  He sends me *I like you.  If you like me, send this back, but forward it to five other people*, emails.  I get notices to hug my kids and remember to send my mother a birthday card.  I’ve seen an open letter to immigrants who refuse to assimilate and insist the country should change to suit them.  I’ve read the story of an Arizona sheriff who took the inmates of his small prison out to live in tents, wear pink jumpsuits and do roadwork.  No TV, no A/C, no library, don’t like it, do your time and don’t come back.  He says that BrainRants, and the rest of the boys in Afghanistan have it worse, kwicherbichin!

KayJai said that the occurrences near her have reminded her to keep breathing and enjoy each day and the people who are in it.  This is what Tony has done for me for years, and continues to do.  No matter how silly or educational the next email, it reminds me that there is someone out there who cares for me, and to whom I still have at least a tenuous connection.  Tony has been, and still is, a formative part of my life.  He reminds me to keep enjoying it.  I should get off my lazy, forgetful ass and tell him how much I have appreciated it.

Gotta go now.  I have a big, long, breezy, remember-when email to compose.  Do you have someone you should send one to?