The History of Oils and Fats

In the Middle Ages poor people went to bed at curfew – the time when all fires were to be extinguished – and would arise at dawn to do their work. A wealthier person might have tallow candles but only the wealthiest could afford beeswax – that was primarily the Church. A merchant fined for breach of the guilds ordinances would be required to pay it in beeswax.

Moving towards the industrial era, households relied on whale oil to fuel their lamps – until a Scottish scientist discovered a way to extract paraffin oil from coal. Good news for whales, also for the fossil fuel industry. Or so it seems.

The coming of electricity meant that paraffin lamps were reduced to a stand-by (does anyone remember having one) but coal was still needed to produce the electricity. Attempts are made to replace coal with biomass but that entails deforestation or using land that could otherwise be used for food crops

Edible fat’s include lard and suet, animal fat. Butter is made from milk so equally unacceptable to vegans. Margarine became popular during WWII rationing, I don’t know what it was but didn’t like it. I now use an olive spread and olive oil for shallow frying. It’s not recommended for deep fry though, Rape or Sunflower Oil are better but both need land to grow them. Rape is grown near me and I’m allergic to it, the biggest grower of sunflowers is Ukraine. See the problem?

So while I believe we should reduce our dependence on on Palm Oil and do our best ensure that’s it’s produced sustainably, I can’t agree with those who want it banned altogether. It’s in so many products that we can’t ban it without something else to replace it.

Whale oil replaced tallow. Paraffin replace whale oil. Electricity replaced paraffin and steam but still required coal.

Lard and butter gave way to margarine, that requires more land. Where do we go from here? We use oils in so many ways it seems impossible to eliminate them entirely. We still need lubricants for our machines.

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