Butter and Margarine: The Seventh Food Group

Not too long ago the U.S. government encouraged daily consumption of butter and margarine. You can see the precursors to today's food pyramid at "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" at the National Archives. i i

Not too long ago the U.S. government encouraged daily consumption of butter and margarine. You can see the precursors to today's food pyramid at "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" at the National Archives. U.S. National Archives hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. National Archives
Not too long ago the U.S. government encouraged daily consumption of butter and margarine. You can see the precursors to today's food pyramid at "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" at the National Archives.

Not too long ago the U.S. government encouraged daily consumption of butter and margarine. You can see the precursors to today's food pyramid at "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" at the National Archives.

U.S. National Archives

A few months ago, chef Jose Andres came on the show to talk about the history of American recipes, showcased at his new restaurant America Eats Tavern ... as well as a new exhibit at the National Archives. You can hear the segment here.

I went to see the exhibit last night. "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" examines the federal government's role in food since the 18th century. Coursing through history, it recounts the obvious — food rationing during war — to the obscure — federal laws prohibiting margarine.

Critics of the Smithsonian Institution lament how its museums fail to question their funder: The United States. "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?" does just that: It raises issue with federal price controls and agricultural subsidies. It recognizes the federal government conceded to the seed companies' lobbying. And yes, it admits that not too long ago, butter and margarine comprised their own food group.

One of the more fascinating sections highlights state dinner menus, from LBJ's casual affairs (that were later dubbed barbecue diplomacy) to Eisenhower's multi-page vegetable soup recipe. It's the only set of displays that really shows personality, and shares stories about food.

On the show we asked people to share their food stories: What recipes transcended the years, and moved from generation to generation?

If you're in Washington, D.C. before January 3, stop by. And it didn't stop me from going home and cooking jarred pasta. After all, I learned that's uniquely American.

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