There are just three things I love in this life and, ranked in order of my love, they are butter, mysteries, and polite rage. And so, almost as if a news story were created by my own yearning unconscious, I would like to nominate the following tale of buttery intrigue for whatever the Canadian equivalent of a Pulitzer is.
It all begins when one intrepid Canadian food writer noticed that her butter didn’t have quite the same smear to it as in pre-pandemic times: “The change was so gradual, I didn’t register it at first: Even straight from the countertop, I had to routinely pop a slab into the microwave to ease it back from bread-tearing consistency,” Julie Van Rosendaal writes for the Globe and Mail.
And, like in the first fifteen minutes of any good mystery, Rosendaal initially chalked it up to her mind (and not her butter) playing tricks, soon others were pointing out their stodgy butter as well. Then, the twist—this butter scandal goes all the way to the top:
“Alarm bells went off when I received a direct message on Instagram from someone who had worked in the livestock feed industry, offering insight into the unspreadability of butter. They suggested the current pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions could be a factor, particularly when it comes to overseas imports. Dairy feed uses a lot of palm fats and molasses, the person said, which must be shipped from overseas.”
While Americans expect our shitty butter to come from cows all hopped up on palm oil, Canadian dairy farmers expect a higher quality of butter, as its dairy farmers are paid the same amount for their product each month, regardless of sales. Furthermore, Canadian butter is legally obligated to contain 80 percent delicious, spreadable, butterfat. That’s not what they’re getting amid the pandemic, where demand for butter is potentially causing farmers to feed their cows more palm oil, making for the kind of terrible chalky sticks their less civilized neighbors (us) might spread on their sad morning slices of Wonderbread.
Initially, dairy farmers denied any shady cow feeding practices, but anyone as who’s ever pretended to have not fallen asleep halfway through Chinatown knows, you have to keep digging. And the intrepid journalistic look into who was poisoning, or at least worsening the quality of, the Canadian butter supply has a happy ending, especially for cows. Quebec’s dairy industry council has called for a halt to adding palm oil to cow food, upholding what Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, calls their “moral contract” with cows, butter, and Canada.
“People understand butter shouldn’t be destroying toast in the morning. And they also know that palm oil is bad,” Charlebois told the Guardian. “People understand those things. And that’s why I think people are a little bit shocked by what they’re hearing right now.”
What I, as an outsider, find most shocking is that the dairy council caved when called out. Americans can you imagine just saying to a giant, powerful industry, “Hey, we know you’re doing something we told you not to do. Knock it the fuck off” and then having that industry actually knock it the fuck off? It’s like they have some sort of functioning society just positively glazed with good-ass butter up there.