The NYT gives us the health facts about margarine and butter. Bottom line: “Margarine generally contains less fat and cholesterol than butter, but it is not ideal.” I’ll say, and not because of it’s trans fats. It’s a fairly short story, but nowhere in it does the author recognize that how they taste might have anything to do with the choice; indeed, the recommendation is to use olive or canola oil. Sure, but to spread on a piece of nice bread? To fry an omelet?
When I was a kid, my mother served margarine (mostly for reasons of cost) on vegetables and fried with it, but put out butter for bread. I realized that her baked potatoes never tasted as good as the ones at school, and began a really elaborate research project, grilling the school cook to find out exactly how she cooked them. Nothing worked; then my mom volunteered to work in the kitchen a few hours a week during a time of budget crisis and learned that the melted fat they poured over the potatoes on your plate was butter – from the government school food program, of course. I can enjoy a Wendy’s baked potato with the high-tech marge they give out, but butter on a spud is just a whole lot better than margarine. Hedonic utility is utility and food is good; good food is better and won’t kill you, but it will help to make life worth living.
I think the implication of the Times story, that diet should be optimized for physical health, is as nuts as the idea that one should ruin one’s health at a young age eating junk. A body is something to wear out at an efficient rate over a lifetime. Why is it obvious to so many people that they should give up all their favorite foods in order to die slowly from things that hurt a lot (cancer, mostly) a few years later, rather than a nice quick cheap coronary?