Margarine—irresponsibly kosher

Forget the fact that pareve is also less tasty. There is something so irresponsible about the fact that Jewish people continue to lean towards margarine usage instead of oils and butter just because it makes baked goods pareve.

When I walk by a heimesh bakery on a Friday afternoon and I see people stocking up on margarine for Shabbat, I’m shocked by the seeming lack of attention to the serious health issues connected to trans fats.

During my B.Sc. in nutrition we learned that people used to think margarine was a healthy substitute for butter. They thought (and advertised):

How wonderful! It’s a solid, just like butter, but it’s made from vegetable oil, so it’s healthy!

(Why can’t I find mention of this story online?)

Sitting in this Hebrew University classroom in the 21st century, we all laughed. Silly people! Of course margarine is like pouring chemical lard into the intricate systems on which our bodies run.

Ah, what a cute little piece of history.

Today it’s easy to smile from the story when it’s old news that margarine is (in my opinion way) worse than butter because of the trans fat. This fat doesn’t only raise LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) in a way similar to butter, but also lowers HDL (the “good” cholesterol), which is something animal fat has not been shown to do. And, to be extremely unscientific, trans fat is simply a messed up molecule that you’re putting in your body in excess.

Those who eat animal products actually do eat trans fats which occur naturally in very small amounts in some animal products but margarine is a whole other ballgame and to not take it seriously is negligent.

Photo source
You know I actually find this picture nauseating? Photo source

It’s not just history.

To be honest, I grew up without margarine in the house and so for me it isn’t a struggle. But I’m the lucky one (thanks Ma!!!) because here we are living in a country that is developing in so many ways and yet, in an old and destructive fashion, it continues to churn out margarine so that people can have cookies and rugelach for dessert after meat.

I am surprised by the absentmindedness around trans fat consumption. Maybe people are using healthier alternatives at home (are you?) but bought products continue to be made with margarine without a second thought and said products are being consumed even when pareve isn’t an issue, for example, at 11am on a weekday.

Simply put, in Israel and in the kosher world worldwide, margarine continues to hold the default role for fat in so many of the foods made for us, and people just keep buying them. And worse, people keep on eating them.

The trans fat issue is so much more complicated in Israel than in the rest of the world because of the religious aspect to the issue. It’s so easy to just use margarine. You can sell more of your product and you can eat more of your homemade dish. But how can people be giving more thought to the kosher issue and to the texture of that cookie than to the health issues? This is the opposite of what I hope Judaism is.

What should you do?

Read ingredients

Trans fats are in ingredients such as:

  • Margarine
  • Hydrogenated fat
  • Partially hydrogenated fat
  • מרגרינה
  • שומן צמחי מוקשה
  • שומן צמחי חצי מוקשה
  • שומן מוקשה

Eat dessert first

I’m serious! This would allow you to use butter in your baking instead of margarine and I honestly believe people would eat less if they ate dessert when they were still hungry. Try it and tell me if it works.

Play around with oils in the kitchen

Learn how to use oil in your food preparations at home. Many of us don’t touch margarine and still prepare delicious food. Granted I don’t think I’ve ever made a successful cookie but I’ve tasted some so I know it can be done.

Use butter!

If it doesn’t need to be pareve and you want the texture and flavour of a hard fat in your recipe, use butter. It has such a bad rep but it really isn’t so bad and, very importantly, have any of you tasted it lately? Damn!

Food manufacturers should show they care about their consumers’ health

Call it wishful thinking but it’s definitely time for more food establishment owners and food manufacturers to show some responsibility towards their consumers’ health so that on a very bright day in the near future, we can finally assume products don’t have margarine, as opposed to today’s assumption.

The least we can do is shy away from margarine-laden products in order to unclog this issue.

Stop giving Judaism a bad rep

One of the main issues I have with all of this is that it’s connected to our religion and it gives Judaism a bad rep. Anyone who cares about health will find it difficult to be understanding of such high trans fat consumption rates for religious reasons. We’re supposed to take care of our bodies (something that is truly challenging these days). Purchasing margarine-rich products in order to sweeten our Shabbat is backwards and it’s time to open our eyes and start making healthier fat choices.

Have a happy trans fat-free Shabbat!

About the Author
Deena writes about life, relationships and her beloved Jerusalem. She organizes "Jerusalem Encounters" and shares hand-picked cultural events in her online calendar, Things to do in Jerusalem.
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