Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

See, the experts were wrong ... it's got to be butter

Estee Lauder
Estee Lauder

There's a lovely moment in that Meryl Streep movie Julie & Julia, when Amy Adams, as a follower of the great Julia Child, breaks into a song of praise to butter.

There is just nothing like butter, the apprentice cook cries. Gorgeous. Heavenly. And as a tribute to Julia Child, the woman who taught America to cook, a packet of butter is placed in pride of place in the Julia Child museum.

That rings so true. There is nothing like butter. Which is why I welcomed a new study, published in the British Medical Journal, which overturns that nonsense about butter being bad for you and inducing heart attacks.

Wrong. The authors of the report, from the US National Institute of Health, have gone back to the original researches and found the testers who switched to margarine and sunflower oil had a higher risk of death from all causes – including heart disease.

The original study, which boosted marge and other artificial substitutes for butter, was done in Australia between 1966 and 1973, but now it emerges significant aspects of the data were missing.

But surely common sense is the best guide? Any natural product is unlikely to be bad for you in moderation. We live in an age of extremes, in which we are warned that one cigarette will change your DNA forever, one drink will make you drive like a maniac, or one smack on a child's arm will prove you're a sadistic brute.

And, yes, there is still such a thing as moderation and most people can practise it.

Obviously, if you gorge on butter all day you'll end up looking like Two-Ton Tessie, but most individuals are not going to do that.

Yet a moderate amount of delicious, real butter on your toast, crumpet or mashed potato is a peerless small treat.

Here I would like to call an expert witness for the defence: Estee Lauder, the cosmetics queen, whom I interviewed some years ago. She was in her 80s and looked terrific. Her formula for great looks was that she always ate a pat, or two, of butter every day.

With age, she said, comes a dryness of the skin and the body benefits from the natural cream of butter; butter irrigates the system and the skin. It's been my anti-diet excuse ever since.

Butter has been churned in Ireland for centuries. Irish butter is absolutely ace and I hope this report will give it a worldwide boost.

How could anyone prefer the artificial compound of margarine? How could anyone think of mixing butter with marge – or imagine that a true butter-eater wouldn't notice? The only disadvantage of butter is that it doesn't spread straight from the fridge, so you put it into a butter dish in advance. But this 'disadvantage' is also a sign of butter's authenticity.

There is a parallel here with linen. Linen fell into disfavour in the 1960s because it was considered to be inconvenient – it was difficult to iron and creased easily. (The decline of the linen industry had a catastrophic impact on Northern Ireland.)

The modernisers confidently prophesied nylon and polyester – manageable artificial fabrics – would henceforth be preferred.

Wrong, again. Nylon is never pleasant next to the skin and polyester is only bearable if mixed with a natural product – cotton.

But linen has made a comeback as something real, organic and classy. Its alleged inconvenience – it creases – is now seen as the proof of its authenticity. "So echt," cry the fashionistas. "It's real because it creases."

And, thus, with butter: it's real because it doesn't spread straight from the fridge. But, as it says in the movie, it's a delicious, appetising and irreplaceable product. You can't fake the real thing.

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