Butter vs. Margarine

 One of America’s most bizarre food battles.


It’s one of the most bizarre episodes in American food history: when butter and margarine were at war. What you choose to spread on your toast might seem like a boring subject, but it turns out to be fascinating and sometimes hilarious. Margarine’s history began with French emperor Napoleon III, a French chemist, and some sheep’s stomachs and went on to include heated courtroom debates, our first federal laws regulating food, and outlaws smuggling faux butter across state lines.

The spreads have competed for more than a hundred years, and public preferences shift each time our understanding of health science changes. In this episode of Distillations we learn about the history of butter and margarine and explore the distinctly American debates they inspired involving food, health, science, and regulation.


HostsElisabeth Berry Drago and Alexis Pedrick
ProducerMariel Carr
Associate ProducerRigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: Catherine Girardeau


Our theme music was composed by Zach Young. Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network