What’s in this stuff of life?

Washing out an empty container of Country Crock Light the other night I took time to read the sides of the tub. To be honest, it was difficult to tell what the product actually is at first. 

I mean, I know what it “is.” Fake butter. Fewer calories than butter, which is why it’s in our house right now. It tastes pretty good. I mean, almost like butter. But what it is?

Margarine? Not quite. That’s not a word you’ll see on the tub. Underneath the logo and all the marketing catchphrases you will learn that this product is “28 percent vegetable oil spread.” 

So, I know what 28 percent of it is. But what is the rest of it? The tub says it “starts with farm grown ingredients.” But farms produce lots of different things. Wheat. Oats. Manure. Angry cats. Pretty big range of products there. 

The ingredients are listed on the side, so this isn’t some elaborate caper. It just takes some work to figure out. 

Purified water? Cool. 

Soybean oil? Yes. 

Palm Kernel and Palm oil? Nice. 

Salt? Mmm. 

Mono and Diglycerides? Chemistry wasn’t my best subject.

Natural flavors? Could be anything, but OK.

After that it’s a blend of soy, vitamins, coloring and vinegar. Pretty much the stuff that comes out of science fair volcanos.

I don’t know why I suddenly questioned the Country Crock when I was washing dishes that night. I mean, we’ve been eating it for several weeks. My wife switched out the butter for this stuff a while ago. If it was going to kill us, it missed its chance.

When COVID hit two years ago, we started buying real butter and putting it on everything. It was glorious. But, time would prove this to be a highly emotional decision, not a logical one. You can’t eat your way through a pandemic with impunity. There is a cost.

Please know I’m not trying to start the butter wars here. I know some people like real butter, some like margarine and some like 28 percent vegetable oil spread. To each their own. Real butter tastes the best, but you have to moderate your intake. That’s hard for me to do when butter can be added to almost anything with a shockingly high success rate. As a person who must wear pants professionally this would not do.

So we’re using the mystery spread. It’s best not to ask too many questions. 

Ingredients matter greatly to some people for some very important reasons: allergies, for instance, or other health concerns. But for most Americans a lot of questionable material goes down the pipe without much thought. 

Most processed meat, for instance, is really just a USDA-approved prayer. Things are coated in all kinds of chemicals — friendly, healthy chemicals, I’m sure, but chemicals nonetheless. The other day I ate a gas station lemon cupcake that I doubt was ever in the same area code as an actual lemon. It tasted pretty good.

Faith is a tough issue for a lot of people. Beliefs are hard-won, hard-lost, and full of emotional baggage. But when we order a hot dog at the game we eat it. And we almost never die, or at least not right away. That’s a kind of faith. It’s a start, anyway.

In life we must learn to tolerate a certain amount of ambiguity. Admittedly, some are better at this than others. I feel like a work in progress. Though I am learning that acceptance is a useful tool in most situations.

This Country Crock stuff spreads nice. Good for sandwiches. Tomorrow is a new day.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, April 3, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


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