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How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet

How Vegetable Oils Replaced Animal Fats in the American Diet

from theatlantic.com: Reprinted from The Happiness Diet: The by-products of pork production meant that the burgeoning metropolis [Cincinnati] was also home to many tanneries, boot makers, and upholsters. Animal fats were hot commodities, as they were rendered and molded into soap and candles. Breaking down pigs was a highly efficient process known as the disassembly line -- an idea that would later be reverse-engineered by Henry Ford to produce automobiles. A major economic depression in the 1870s caused two important citizens of Porkopolis to join forces in order to cut costs and survive the bear market. They formed a company that would eventually be responsible for the greatest dietary shift in our country's history. William Procter brought his candle-making business to the states after a fire destroyed his business in England. James Gamble fled Ireland during the Great Potato Famine and became a soap manufacturer. In a twist of fate, the two men happened to marry sisters in Cincinnati. Together, the brothers-in-law formed Procter & Gamble, a soap- and candle-manufacturing operation... At the time, soap was sold in huge wheels that were sliced into custom-sized portions at general stores. Procter and Gamble decided to take a chance by mass-producing individually wrapped bars of soap. To pull this off, the brother-in-laws needed to drastically reduce the price of their raw ingredients, which meant finding a replacement for expensive animal fats... Thanks to Procter & Gamble the United States boosted the production of a waste product of cotton farming, cottonseed oil. To ensure a steady, cheap supply for soap production the company formed a subsidiary in 1902 called Buckeye Cotton Oil Co. An issue of Popular Science from the era sums up the evolution of cottonseed nicely: "What was garbage in 1860 was fertilizer in 1870, cattle feed in 1880, and table food and many things else in 1890." But it entered our food supply slowly. It wasn't until a new food-processing invention of hydrogenation that cottonseed oil found its way into the kitchens of America's restaurants and homes.  Soon the company's scientists produced a new creamy, pearly white substance out of cottonseed oil. It looked a lot like the most popular cooking fat of the day: lard. Before long, Procter & Gamble sold this new substance (known today as hydrogenated vegetable oil) to home cooks as a replacement for animal fats. Procter & Gamble filed a patent application for the new creation in 1910, describing it as "a food product consisting of a vegetable oil, preferably cottonseed oil, partially hydrogenated, and hardened to a homogeneous white or yellowish semi-solid closely resembling lard. The special object of the invention is to provide a new food product for a shortening in cooking." They came up with the name Crisco, which they thought conjured up crispness, freshness, and cleanliness.

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