05 February 2009

Butter, Revisited

"What do you blog about?" is a question I got asked a few times the other night. Well, um, stuff - life, food, parents, parenting, work, books - you know, stuff. And while food is in there, and is something I like to write about and think about, it's by no means the focal point of this here blog.

So, it was kind of a mystery to me to get an invitation a couple of weeks ago to attend a cooking class/cocktail party with Cat Cora - who I'd never before heard of. [I've heard of the Iron Chef program, but I've never watched it, so I don't know the participants.] But it was at a swank location, and they were offering car service, and I figured what the hell, it might be an amusing night out. I roped a friend into being my walker, and told them I'd be there.

Before I accepted the invitation, I tried googling to figure out what this might be about - the invitation called it "The BIG FAT Truth"chef dinner and made reference to a "secret ingredient".

Not until the day of the event did I figure out what the secret ingredient was, and what the party was likely to be about - it turns out that Cat Cora is shilling for Unilever's soft spreads, and the event was a kick-off for a new marketing campaign propping up the "right kind of fats".

It seems to me that the people in charge of the invitations didn't do much in the way of due diligence. If they had, they might have noticed that the very first post I ever wrote was about butter.

Whatever.

Peter and I swanned into a drop-dead beautiful loft-like duplex apartment, complete with two fireplaces, enormous kitchen, floor to ceiling bookshelves and a huge wrap-around terrace. The place was beautifully lit, the drinks were terrific, and the gorgeous flower arrangements were in plastic spread tubs.

Cat Cora did a brief demonstration - making vegetable dumplings by sauteing some broccoli slaw in melted soft spread, folding that into wonton skins, and basting them with more melted soft spread before it went into the oven. On the counter in front of her, there were cheese straws in a plastic spread tub.

The dumplings later appeared on trays as passed hors d'oeuvres - with their dipping sauce in plastic spread tubs.

At the end of the evening, they sent us home with a copy of Cat Cora's Cooking From the Hip - which looks like a perfectly nice cookbook, full of olive oil and butter, and not a trace of soft spread - as well as a card file containing lots of "myths" and "truths" and "lies" about butter and soft spreads, as well as recipes for all of the foods served at the party.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it.

First of all, I'm thoroughly in the Michael Pollan camp - in this case, hewing to the avoid foods with unfamiliar, unpronounceable ingredients edict. Secondly, I like my food to taste good, and that stuff not only doesn't taste good, it leaves a weird coating in your mouth.

Butter tastes great. It has nice mouth feel. It's all natural - if you had a cow, you could make it yourself. Butter's been around for a really long time. Soft spread is a factory invention. Why would you want to ingest that? If you want to cut back on the fat in your diet, use less. If you want to lower your cholesterol and saturated fat intake, use olive oil.

I could go on and on, nitpicking through the press release and the recipe cards, poking holes in this and that. But I'm starting to feel churlish and, to be fair, the evening was fun in more than one respect: I got to hang with Peter, I met a couple of interesting, like-minded bloggers, and they were pouring a lovely crisp fat-free white wine.

37 comments:

flutter said...

you had me at butter.

soupwhistle said...

Your "walker" sounds fascinating. I think you said his name was Peter. Does he like butter or soft spread?

I agree with you about the butter. There are no substitutes. I'm waiting for a hybrid car that runs on butter.

alejna said...

Mmmm...butter.

That event sounds really bizarre. It seems quite fitting that they should have tried to fancify the use of those plastic tubs for serving and flowers while trying to convince that the spread could be used in fine foods. Because plastic tubs obviously don't cut it as far as elegance goes, and it sounds like the spread didn't hold its own in the recipes.

I'm glad they didn't serve you the wine in plastic tubs...

ozma said...

It is impossible to reproduce the lovely taste of butter but there was this yogurt based soft spread I really, really liked at one point.

I think the politics/environmental things, etc. tell against crazy pseudo-food even if it were probably not that bad for you.

I tend to be kind of a skeptic about the idea that it makes a huge, huge difference for any one person in actual terms the specifics of what they eat...but that doesn't mean there aren't other good reasons.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I don't think they'll be inviting you back.

I'm with you on the butter.

gwen jackson said...

Thank you. Thank you. Finally somebody puts into words my feelings about butter. I mean at least the unpornographic ones :) Ok, I'm just kidding. This is my first comment on your blog. I shouldn't go messing up by mentioning that. Anyway, Butter is awesome. People have been eating butter for thousands of years. It is a staple of the human diet. And why people choose to eat chemical tasting, nasty "spreads" instead of butter is beyond me. Great post. Now I am going to go read the first post you wrote...because you said it is about butter. ~g

Karen said...

I am a butter lover, too. If I am not using butter, I am using olive oil. Those are the only two things fat wise that I use in cooking. No need to even try to get me to use something different.

My husband and I have been discussing going vegetarian, and I have told him that I know I will have a hard time giving up fish, eggs, butter and cheese. He is the one who wants to go vegan, so ok, he can. Just let ME have my butter.

Mayberry said...

I used to go to these kinds of events a lot when I was a magazine editor. The best one was the Wisconsin Cheese dinner. Every course, and there were at least 6, was crammed full of cheeeeeese. I rolled out of there a happy woman.

I'm glad you had fun even if the product wasn't for you.

kate w said...

Long-time butter lover here too, firmly in Pollan's camp... that event just sounds kind of tacky. I mean, soft spread as food, well some people eat it. But soft spread containers as decor?

Indigo Virgo said...

I'm in the middle of In Defense of Food, so I probably wouldn't have been able to go at this point.

Thanks for an interesting post and a vicarious night out.

Kelly said...

Long live real butter.

i am very mary said...

This is perhaps one of the weirdest things you've ever posted. And I secretly loved it.

heidi said...

gotta love it, purely on a gossipy-entertainment level.

RuthWells said...

Butter rules, and you rock.

Janet said...

If butter was good enough for Julia, it's good enough for me :-) And I do love a good olive oil!

Library Lady said...

I've got little use for Pollan--to me he is one of the privileged singing to the choir, unaware there are millions without the money to shop organically (and let's get real, it IS pricey), never mind access to farmer's markets and boutique supermarkets!

I grew up having butter as a treat--my mom would occasionally buy the Breakstone's whipped sweet butter for bread or crackers. But we started using marge long ago--my father's doctor put him on a low cholesterol diet in the late 1970s, and he's still with us at almost 88!

There is butter in MY fridge for baking--in fact I bought 4 pounds worth at Coscto last month. But there is also (cringe if you will)"butter spray" which my 9 year old prefers to regular margarine, and that we use on veggies.

There's canola oil for baking when I don't use butter and applesauce for when I'm really being calorie careful in muffins and such. And olive oil, the ordinary kind for cooking (nobody needs "EVOO" for frying and Rachel Ray is a twit) and the fancy kinds we bring home from Fairway for dressings and other such.

To me, it's all about balance. Different flavors for different needs. That's what makes food FUN!

painted maypole said...

mmm...butter

Anjali said...

I, too, am always one of those people who CAN believe it's not butter.

Becky said...

Wow. Those Unilever paychecks must be astronomical.

phd in yogurtry said...

I do love me some butter, esp on a baked potato. I cook religiously with Canola or Olive oil, depending. But I'm also a fan of the yogurt spread, I forget what it's called, but that might be one of the flower vases pictured (blue). Spreads have their place in my kitchen, for ease, especially where kids are concerned. I have been known to close my eyes where the big word ingredients are concerned.
One question, what is a walker?

the mama bird diaries said...

Damn, I'm sorry I missed it.

I'm off to drink some fat free coffee, followed up by some fat free wine later.

slouching mom said...

What Jenn @ Juggling Life said.

LOL!

YourFireAnt said...

Nutrition is not the only reason you eat, fergodssake!

FA

liz said...

Mmmmmm....butter.

Cold Spaghetti said...

I'm no great food taster or expert on cooking -- but I do have a handle on public health science. And from that vantage, I say AMEN to all the above!

nonlineargirl said...

I love butter. And - coincidentally, the post I read just before coming here was also about butter. Check it out: http://aarin.blogspot.com/2009/02/baby-with-butter.html

meno said...

I saw Michael Pollen when he was here a few weeks ago, (did you know that today is his birthday?) and so i would never touch that spread crap.

Going Crunchy said...

Love the post!

I told my Doctor about the lines to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Kinda sums it up!

Woman in a Window said...

And yet you come and blog your truth -
and this is why I love you.

Vodka Mom said...

now I"m craving toast with butter.

Angelina said...

I like butter. I don't eat a lot of it but I think manufactured spreads are creepy.

Sarah said...

It was so great to meet you and Peter the other night. What a relief to find other people who shared my skepticism. And I am definitely, firmly in the butter camp ...

Nonetheless, it was a fantastic event. That space alone was worth the trip. I am still fantasizing about the exposed brick and the amazing kitchen.

mama without instructions said...

well put! thank heaven the tide is turning (at least to some extent) against manufactured food and back to real, good food!

bernthis said...

I agree. Splenda leaves a horrible aftertaste, I think. I literally can't stand the stuff. I'm going to pass on trying the spread as well, thanks for the warning

Menopausal musing said...

One from across the pond here: My own last post was about butter!!!! You can't beat the real thing.....x Cathy

Angeline said...

that's a buttery experience!!!
hmmmm..
let me guess, those who ask "what do you blog about".... came from non-bloggers right???!!!

cos for me, that particular question comes from 100% non-bloggers.

Janet said...

I would marry butter if it were legal.