Our butter isn’t bad, but it could be better

I favour butter for taste, texture and simplicity and I’m wary of laboratory-produced foodstuffs.

Is butter or margarine better? It’s a moot point. I favour butter for taste, texture and simplicity and I’m wary of laboratory-produced foodstuffs. As a supporter of a new agriculture with food produced on a smaller scale and closer to home, I see a place in our future for milk, butter and cheese produced from grass-fed animals on mixed farms. I also enjoy French cuisine, which relies heavily on butter for many classic recipes.

I don’t like people tampering with my butter, either. I won’t pay more for ‘reduced fat’ butter. If I want less butter I can use less butter instead of paying the same price for a less substantial product.

And since I like pure, natural ingredients, I was unhappy when the news came out recently that a B.C. researcher said that “Our butter really sucks.” Did that mean I was going to have to find imported butter instead of my favourite Lactantia?

If you don’t read the scientific journals or The Globe and Mail, perhaps you heard Dr. Sanjoy Ghosh on the CBC but did not catch his reasoning. In a nutshell, he is telling us that our cows are receiving too much corn and not enough grass as feed. So the very polyunsaturated fats that we have begun to avoid in margarines are creeping into the diets of our dairy cattle.

Ghosh and colleagues, in fact, produced research a decade ago proving that saturated fats such as butter are better for us than the polyunsaturated fats found in so much of our ultra-processed food. So when he discovered that Canadian butter contains the highest level of omega-6 acids (not good) from around the world, he was blunt in his disapproval.

Like many large industries, the dairy organizations are claiming that there is not enough of the bad stuff in their products to cause harm. But the fact remains that all other countries studied, with widely differing conditions, are doing better than us in the nutritive quality of their butter. Could it be that it is time for us to reduce the amount of land we devote to the production of corn?

I try to envision a simpler future by considering our recent past. My husband, raised on a small farm at Cowichan Station here on Vancouver Island, has often spoken of learning to milk the four cows and to churn butter that was shaped in wooden boxes then wrapped and sold locally. He learned how to manage cows seemingly determined to thwart their milkers and how to separate the fat from the skim and turn the fat into either cream or butter. Nobody died or got sick from the results.

Ghosh concludes “Our butter in comparison to other country’s butter … yes, it does suck. But, is it bad compared to the other vegetable oil and alternate fats that we eat? Not at all. I still suggest people eat butter.”

I would add that I want the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to take seriously the harmful effects of over-production of corn on our foodstuffs as well as our agricultural land.

Marjorie Stewart is past-chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.