Friday, June 20, 2008


My valuable stash of rare collectibles

Yesterday something happened to me that had not happened for quite some time. No, not that. You people have dirty minds.

I was at the market and there was butter on the shelf and I didn't actually buy any. If that sounds strange to you, then you haven't been on the receiving end of my whining about the butter shortage in Japan or been reading international news. For the past several months, Japan has not had enough butter to go around and we were all forced to suffer the indignity of margarine consumption. While this is hardly an epic issue, it was an early indication of food shortages and how they are reflected in life in Japan. The main consequence was that cooks (and bakers) had to to make some different choices.

As someone who enjoys cooking and who is married to someone who likes both his bread and popcorn well-buttered (and I'm betting dirty minds are activating again), I've had to stockpile butter when it made a rare appearance on shelves. I'm not sure if more butter is being made available or if our consumption has reduced enough that we aren't using it up as quickly as it's being resupplied, but we currently have more than we need so I was able to pass on paying almost $4 for the equivalent of two sticks of butter the other day.

There are different takes on what is causing the shortage, but the consensus among the people I've spoken with is that milk consumption in Japan has been going down over the past several years and dairy farmers were finding it unprofitable to keep so many cows. When the world demand for dairy products rose, Japan found itself short.

Both my husband and I have been asking our students about this and a lot of them didn't even notice that there was a shortage. A few of mine noticed when they started taking cooking classes or needed to make a dish that was not a part of their usual repertoire. For me, the main issue has been baking. I've had to turn to Canola oil as a substitute in many cases. I can't say that it's been a big problem and actually will end up saving me money in the long run since I can buy a liter of Canola oil for the price of a cup of butter.

It strikes me that I'm really fortunate that this is the most notable problem related to worldwide food shortages at this point. Well, there's that and increasing prices, but at least we can afford to pay them without hardship. Sometimes not having something makes you feel more blessed than having limitless options.


Anonymous said...

Most of the time I only half listen to news so when I went to the super the other day to get some butter and only found margarine I thought...Oh that was what that news was all about..since then I've been on a search for butter but haven't found any nearby. No big deal though. Many years ago there was a toilet paper shortage I think...

Hey can you open up comments to non blogspot/openID people?

Orchid64 said...

My students have mentioned the toilet paper shortage and how people went a bit nuts over that. I must say that I strongly prefer a butter shortage over a toilet paper one. ;-)

I have opened up commenting for everyone.

Helen said...

Lucky you finding butter! I haven't found any for a couple of weeks. I don't use margarine if I can help it, so I'm not enjoying this shortage!

(And, welcome back :-) )

Anonymous said...

One blogger I read regularly said that there was no shortage of cream, so she made her own butter. It's especially easy to make if you can get the regular pasteurized cream as opposed to the ultra-pasteurized the is most available here in the U.S. You can even add a bit of yogurt and let the cream ferment for a short time to make really good cultured butter.

I once asked my husband to whip some cream to go with a dessert but I forgot to warn him that it was not ultra-pasteurized cream. He is really good at beating and before he knew it, we had very sweet butter... It wasn't very good, even on toast. So if you decide to make butter, don't add sugar!

Orchid64 said...

Helen: I think I run across butter once every 3-4 weeks now. At first, I'd always pick up 2 blocks, but now we've got too much around since I don't use it for anything where the taste of butter really makes a difference. I think that there must be specific times when all stores get a bit of butter and, if you don't happen to find it fast, you don't get it.

Tess: Heh, I can barely manage everything else I have to do these days, let alone making my own butter! LOL However, it's good to know there are options. When my schedule settles down, I'm going to make my own ricotta cheese though. It's so expensive here and it's pretty easy to make!

Thanks to both of your for your comments!