Caroline Goldberg Igra
Art Historian, Writer and Triathlete
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Where’s the butter?

A little research shows that Israel's outrageously frequent butter shortages are the result of monopolistic dairy practices
(iStock)
(iStock)

“Where’s the butter?”

It’s a Friday morning like any other. I’m sorting through the groceries, putting away the items that need refrigeration. My husband shops for the family on Fridays. I get to skip that all-too-boring weekly ritual and he gets to chat up the neighbors. Win-win.

“There wasn’t any.”

“Again?”

“Again.”

“How is that possible? Where’s all the butter?”

This conversation had become as regular as our Friday morning shopping ritual. There was no butter to be found and our stock was running seriously low. While we’d let the situation slide, convinced it would sort itself out, we now knew it was time to take action.

First: The survey. We asked around, inquiring whether others knew why butter had disappeared from the shelves. No one had a clue and worse, they seemed rather complacent. This made no sense. Who could possibly accept a world without butter?

Second: The research. Ends up that one company, Tnuva, basically has a monopoly on butter, Tara having stepped out of the race some time ago. Their attempt to raise the cost of butter in response to the recent rise in the cost of milk fat (due to a shortage of cows!) had been rejected by the government, concerned about keeping consumer prices affordable and steady. Unable to cover their production costs, Tara decided it would simply be easier to stop producing butter (How I hate even writing that sentence!) and simply stick with milk. Quelle horreur!!!

Third: The search. We branched out, expanding our network of grocery stores to include those we happened by at any time of the day or night. The ability to get that precious commodity, were we lucky enough to find it, into proper refrigeration, was no longer important. We just wanted to score some butter.

The upshot? Still no butter.

About me and butter: It’s nothing short of a love affair. I’m probably one of butter’s biggest fans. And when I say butter, I mean butter. I don’t cater to substitutes: no spreads, no margarine, nothing that smacks of being a wannabee. And although I dropped it cold turkey a few years ago, after noting my cholesterol levels, I have since come crawling back. Blood fat be damned.

My search has had some interesting moments. A few weeks back, I ventured into a large market run by a kibbutz. I was excited, confident. Weren’t kibbutzim synonymous with dairy? I combed the refrigerated shelves, walking briskly back and forth with anticipation, my pace only slowing with the growing understanding that my quest had come up empty. It was early morning and I had the place to myself so I tracked down someone who looked official.

“That’s right,” he said. “There’s no butter.” After trying to assuage me with one substitute or another, all of which I firmly rejected, he visibly brightened, his smile spreading wide. He’d obviously remembered something that might fit the bill. I followed him to the end of the dairy case, my heart rate quickening with anticipation.

Maybe, just maybe…

There before me, in a simple plastic container that looked like those handed out in ninth grade biology for cultivating beans, was a square of yellow matter, small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, that looked very much like butter. I cradled it like a rare gem, flipped it over and then back again. There was no label, no date stamp and the container was just barely “sealed” (if that’s what you would call it) with a flimsy white plastic lid. My brow furrowed and I hesitated for just a moment, questioning its origin, authenticity, and freshness, wondering if it were pasteurized, trying not to wonder why he hadn’t offered this to me in the first place before making the rounds of the dairy case. I smiled, throwing caution to the wind, and marched toward the checkout triumphant. It looked like the Real McCoy. That was enough for me.

That was then. This is now. That precious square of butter is long gone. My search has resumed. Four months and counting. If this terrible, horrible wrong doesn’t right itself very soon I’m going to search for greener pastures, preferably those occupied by a proper herd of cattle. Normandy is looking very good.

About the Author
Caroline published her first novel, "Count to a Thousand," with Mandolin Publishing in June 2018. She holds a doctorate in Art History. She has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in international, academic art history journals as well as a book on the work of WWII artist J. D. Kirszenbaum in conjunction with the artist's nephew (Somogy Éditions d'Art.) She curated an exhibition on Kirszenbaum which was mounted at two Israeli venues: Beit Hatfutsot and the Museum of Art in Ein Harod. She started a blog titled Stuck in the Middle years ago and then went on to blog for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years.
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