Friday, June 20, 2008
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.