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Monday, January 9, 2012

There's a Reason We Think Lard Is Unhealthy: Marketing

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 8:27 AM


Lard wasn't always considered artery-clogging gunk or the rebel chef's fat of choice. A century ago, rendered pig fat was just what American cooks used -- for frying, cakes, biscuits, and hundreds of other dishes. Yet by the time most of us were born, lard was off the table. Poisonous, even. Over the weekend, NPR's Planet Money program asked: Who killed lard? And the answer they found was Procter & Gamble. 

In the early part of the 20th century, most of the industrially produced lard in America came from slaughterhouses. (Planet Money calls lard a byproduct of the pork industry, but up until recently, the fat of an animal was just as valuable, culinarily speaking, as the meat.) 

But in 1907, a soap- and candle-making company named Procter & Gamble that had been dealt a blow by the advent of the electric light was struggling with the surplus of cottonseed oil -- considered inedible -- that they now had. A German chemist introduced the company to the process of hydrogenating oils to make them solid, and within a couple of years, Crisco, or partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, was launched.

And that, says Planet Money, is when P&G began decades of advertising -- in print, radio, and on television -- to convince American cooks that Crisco was a "pure and hygenic" alternative to lard. "The stomach welcomes Crisco and carries forward its digestion with ease," one company-sponsored cookbook advertised. Crisco became one of the early successes of the modern era of advertising. Lard got gross. We all bought into Crisco.

Until the furor over artificial trans fats erupted, and America began looking at its once-beloved shortening with new respect. A century after Crisco's invention, artisanally rendered lard from pasture-raised hogs is a luxury product of sorts. Wonder which one your great-great-great-grandmother would have chosen? 

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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