June 22, 2014

Did you hear?

The 100-plus-year war between butter and margarine, America’s two favorite fatty spreads, has been a battle of cultural norms, nutritional headwinds, a bit of circumstance, and, of course, cash rich marketing campaigns.

Food and beverage

It’s butter vs. margarine in the battle of the fatty spreads

The 100-plus-year war between butter and margarine, America’s two favorite fatty spreads, has been a battle of cultural norms, nutritional headwinds, a bit of circumstance, and, of course, cash rich marketing campaigns.

At times the tussle has proved a tad lopsided – for over 50 years margarine seemed markedly outmatched. Back in 1911, the average American ate almost 19 pounds of butter per year, the most ever, according to the USDA. Meanwhile, margarine consumption barely broke a single pound per person per year. Among the butter industry’s many efforts to mitigate the growth of the competing spread was a mandate, upheld in many states, disallowing the sale of yellow margarine. In an effort to circumvent the restriction, clear margarine blocks were often sold with a side of yellow dye.

World World II, however, brought butter shortages and, with them, the rise of butter’s arch nemesis. It wasn’t until 1957, when Americans ate as much margarine as they did butter – 8.5 pounds per year – that margarine, which was marketed as both a healthier and cheaper butter alternative, opened the spread in its favor.

For some 50 years thereafter, it was butter that was left to congeal in the fridge. In 1976, at the peak of America’s love affair with margarine, per capita consumption towered to just under 12 pounds per year, or nearly three times that of butter, according to the USDA.

Today, however, amid a complete reversal in both consumer preferences and nutritional science – recent studies have challenged the notion that consuming saturated fats is tied to greater risks of heart disease – butter consumption is up more than 21 percent since its lowest reading in 1997, while margarine consumption is down 70 percent since its peak in the mid-1970s.

Put another way, the average American hasn’t eaten this much butter since 1972, or – and perhaps more incredibly – this little margarine since 1942.

Weight loss industry

A trip to Oz

Under pressure from Congress, celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz on Tuesday offered to help “drain the swamp” of unscrupulous marketers using his name to peddle so-called miracle pills and cure-alls to millions of Americans desperate to lose weight.

Oz appeared before the Senate’s consumer protection panel and was scolded by Chairman Claire McCaskill for claims he made about weight-loss aids on his TV show, “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, acknowledged that his language about green coffee and other supplements has been “flowery” and promised to publish a list of specific products he thinks can help America shed pounds and get healthy – beyond eating less and moving more. On his show, he never endorsed specific companies or brands but more generally praised some supplements as fat busters.

Oz stressed during the hearing that he has never endorsed specific supplements or received money from the sale of supplements. Nor has he allowed his image to be used in ads for supplements, he said.


Recalls? What recalls?

Consumers looking for a used vehicle aren’t shying away from GM models – even though more than 20 million GM cars and trucks have been recalled this year.

General Motors cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu have retained or increased in value, sometimes more than rival vehicles. And sales of new cars aren’t slowing either, up 13 percent in May.

GM has issued 44 recalls in North America this year for parts ranging from ignition switches to air bags. The most serious is for ignition switches in 2.6 million small cars linked to more than 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths.


The price of care

Your money or your life?

Sovaldi, a new pill for hepatitis C, cures the liver-wasting disease in 9 of 10 patients, but treatment can cost more than $90,000.

Leading medical societies recommend the drug as a first-line treatment, and patients are clamoring for it. But insurance companies and state Medicaid programs are gagging on the price. In Oregon, officials propose to limit how many low-income patients can get Sovaldi.

Yet if Sovaldi didn’t exist, insurers would still be paying in the mid-to-high five figures to treat the most common kind of hepatitis C, a new pricing survey indicates. Some of the older alternatives involve more side effects, and are less likely to provide cures.

The average cost of a liver transplant: $577,000.

The Washington Post and The Associated Press contributed.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos