Big Vegetable Oil

Big Vegetable Oil

Recent History

January 1, 1893

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Swift & Co introduced a product called Cottonsuet in 1893

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The development of cottonseed oil from Southern cotton plantations helped fill the void. Americans still didn’t consider oil acceptable for cooking or baking, but that didn’t stop some companies from mixing the oil with beef fat to make a “compound lard.” Swift & Co., for instance, introduced a product called Cottonsuet in 1893. Unbeknownst to consumers, manufacturers had also been sneaking cottonseed oil into butter from the 1860s on as a way of reducing costs. Indeed, here was the enduring and compelling logic of vegetable oils: they were cheaper than animal fats. Starting in the early 1930s, when the mechanized process of hulling and pressing cottonseeds came to be widely used, this and then other oils pressed from seeds and beans were simply less expensive than raising and slaughtering animals.

January 1, 1906

The Jungle

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Meat sales in the United States to fall by half in 1906

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Ironically—or perhaps tellingly—the heart disease “epidemic” began after a period of exceptionally reduced meat eating. The publication of The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s fictionalized exposé of the meatpacking industry, caused meat sales in the United States to fall by half in 1906, and they did not revive for another twenty years. In other words, meat eating went down just before coronary disease took off. Fat intake did rise during those years, from 1909 to 1961, when heart attacks surged, but this 12 percent increase in fat consumption was not due to a rise in animal fat. It was instead owing to an increase in the supply of vegetable oils, which had recently been invented.

Nevertheless, the idea that Americans once ate little meat and “mostly plants”—espoused by McGovern and a multitude of experts—continues to endure. And Americans have for decades now been instructed to go back to this earlier, “healthier” diet that seems, upon examination, never to have existed.

January 1, 1908

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Hydrogenation of oil is invented.

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January 1, 1910

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The only fats that could be found in any American kitchen up until about 1910 were those that came exclusively from animals.

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As the accompanying graph shows, the only fats that could be found in any American kitchen up until about 1910 were those that came exclusively from animals: lard (the fat from pigs), suet (the fat from around an animal’s kidneys), tallow (a harder fat from sheep and cattle), butter, and cream. Some cottonseed and sesame oils were produced locally on farms in the South (the slaves brought sesame seeds from Africa), but none was produced nationally or in large quantities; and efforts to make olive oil foundered upon an inability to successfully cultivate olive trees (although no less a man than Thomas Jefferson tried). The fats used by housewives in the United States and also in most of Northern Europe were therefore those from animals. Cooking with oil was a largely unfamiliar idea.

 

Oils weren’t even considered edible. They didn’t belong in the kitchen. They were used to make soaps, candles, waxes, cosmetics, varnishes, linoleum, resins, lubricants, and fuels—all of which were increasingly needed for burgeoning urban populations as well as the machinery of industrialization in the nineteenth century. Whale oil was the primary material for all these purposes starting in 1820; a boom in that oil’s production enriched two generations of New Englanders living on the coast, but the industry had collapsed by 1860.

January 1, 1911

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Proctor and Gamble creates new nonlard shortening called Crisco from cottonseed oil.

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Ancient History

Books

Your Heart Has 9 Lives

Published:

January 1, 1966

Your Heart Has 9 Lives

The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body

Published:

December 11, 2012

The Happiness Diet: A Nutritional Prescription for a Sharp Brain, Balanced Mood, and Lean, Energized Body

Toxic Oil: Why Vegetable Oil Will Killl You & How To Save Yourself

Published:

February 27, 2013

Toxic Oil: Why Vegetable Oil Will Killl You & How To Save Yourself

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

Published:

May 13, 2014

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

The Fatburn Fix: Boost Energy, End Hunger, and Lose Weight by Using Body Fat for Fuel

Published:

March 24, 2020

The Fatburn Fix: Boost Energy, End Hunger, and Lose Weight by Using Body Fat for Fuel