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The consumption of fats in Denmark 1900-2000

Long term changes in the intake and quality
La consommation de gras au Danemark 1900-2000 – Changements à long-terme en matière de qualité et de prises alimentaires
Tenna Jensen

Abstracts

Historical changes in consumption of food in 20th century Denmark have in the past years been of great interest to researchers of a wide range of academic fields, as the prevalence of lifestyle diseases has increased. In this article, the evolution of fat consumption in Denmark from 1900 to 2000 is investigated, quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Insights into the historical nature of the fat consumption provide important knowledge on social and chronological differences, which may have had a decisive impact on the health of the Danes in the past and present.

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Introduction

  • 1 This can be seen in textbooks on human nutrition eg. Nedergaard (2006). The majority of the clinica (...)

1In recent years researchers from many academic fields have shown an increased interest in the interplay between historical dietary developments and the state of human health. The interest has been boosted by increasing prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as cardio vascular diseases and obesity. Moreover current nutritional knowledge and the divergence between energy intake and expenditure in the diets of many Westerners have fostered a special attention to the physiological consequences of eating energy dense products such as fats and sugar.1

2Where sugar is mainly seen as an important promoter of diabetes and obesity, the intake of certain types of fat is believed to increase the risk of cardio vascular diseases. Since the 1960s awareness of the connection between the dietary fatty acid composition and the risk of cardio-vascular disease has been growing (eg. Jakobsen, 2009). Where knowledge about the historical prevalence of cardiovascular disease has been known, information about the relationship between developments in fat consumption over time and this prevalence has, however, been scarce (Stender, 2010: 6-9). This scarcity results from lacking knowledge on the historical consumption of fatty acids. This article aims at filling this gap, by uncovering the historical movements in the Danish fat consumption in the 20th century and thus contributing to a better understanding of the relationship between the intake of different types of fatty acids and lifestyle diseases.

  • 2 A complete image of the combination of fatty acids in the historical diet does obviously require an (...)

3This aim is achieved by conducting three analyses of the longitudinal changes in fat consumption. The three analyses all focus on fats, the group of products which delivered a substantial part of the fatty acids consumed by Danes in the 20th century.2 The first analysis is on the developments in the aggregated consumption of the different types of dietary fats between 1900 and 2000. The second is on the development of the spread in social consumption of fat over time. The third focuses exclusively on the qualitative changes of margarine over the 20th century firstly because it was more consumed by some social segments than others, and secondly because it is the only type of fat of which the fatty acid composition completely relied on the interests of the industry producing it. A feature, which the analysis reveals, might have had an impact on human health.

4Conjoined, these three analyses reveal that historical knowledge on food products can identify important changes in the Danish diet over the previous century. Therefore they highlight the necessity of including historical knowledge in epidemiological and nutritional studies as only history can reveal how the quality and intake of food products have changed during the last century and thus open up new perspectives on how they might have influenced the bodies of past and present populations.

Research, method and material

  • 3 The majority of the historical work on food in the 19th century was carried out under the project M (...)

5Even though food and its consumption is currently a hot scientific topic in Denmark, historical knowledge on the chronological changes in the diet of the Danes in the 20th century has until recently been a field where much has been assumed and little known. The majority of historical analyses on changes in Danish food culture and consumption have previously focused on the 19th century.3

6Knowledge on patterns of food consumption in the 20th century mostly figures in dietary surveys of specific segments of the population. Husholdningsforeningernes kostundersøgelser [Dietary surveys of the Household association] is a series published by the Danish household association which covers most of the 20th century. Their interest was mainly in the consumption of households in the countryside, and the number of interviewed families was often limited. For the latter part of the century the series of dietary surveys Danskernes kostvaner [Danish dietary habits] has been conducted with regular intervals since 1985. As they and other historical and contemporary sociological and nutritional studies use methods and population segments for which it is not possible to create comparable results for the entire century, these are not included in the sources used in this article. They do however, as do the numerous publications from sociologist Lotte Holm, contain ample valuable knowledge on food culture and eating and consumption patterns in 20th century Denmark. They will thus be indispensable to further studies of dietary evolution, more detailed than those presented in this article.

7There are many ways to investigate long-term dietary changes. This article focuses on the two most important quantitative developments of the consumption of fats, as well as the most significant qualitative one. All three analyses focus on large scale developments which make it possible to uncover the changes that have had an impact on the majority of the population over time. These are needed to create the basic knowledge which has hitherto been missing.

  • 4 Demographic developments meant that the aggregated consumer (per capita) changed continuously over (...)

8Research into the aggregated developments of food consumption in Denmark in the 20th century has been published for the years 1955-1999 in Forsyningen af fødevarer 1955-1999 (Supply of Foods 1955-1999) by Fagt & Trolle (2001). The figures processed by Fagt & Trolle and publications from Statistics Denmark form the basis of the statistic on the supply for consumption of fats presented in Figures 1 and 2. The supply for consumption statistic was issued every year by Statistics Denmark from 1948 but retrospective calculations exist from 1914 and forth (Statistiske Efterretninger, 1937, 1949). For some products, among others for margarine and butter, figures exist back from 1900. The amounts available for consumption were, and still are, calculated by the formula: Total produced amount – export + import +/- inventory changes. Any waste which took place after production, that is waste in stores and in the individual homes, is not included in the statistics. The amounts shown in Figure 1 are thereby higher than those actually consumed.4

9 From the late 1880s until the 1920s many articles were issued on the social spread in food consumption in Denmark. Some were issued by statisticians, some by nutritional experts. One of the most enlightening articles of that period deals with consumption patterns in the bourgeoisie around 1900 (Dalhoff & Mackesprang, 1906). This article presents a wide insight into which choices a large food budget allowed for and how consumption differed between the richest and the poorest parts of the working population.

  • 5 In 1976 also non-working parts of the population were included in the surveys Statistiske Efterretn (...)

10Most of the articles published between 1900 and 1920 were either partly or entirely based on the relatively homogenous group of official statistics known as Forbrugsundersøgelserne [household budget surveys] from Statistics Denmark. Those surveys were conducted in order to map the consumption of the working parts of the population. They were issued approximately once every decade between 1897 and 1994 and served as a means for the authorities to gain knowledge on the living conditions of the working parts of the population. From 1994 the series was converted into an electronic survey where 1/3 of the surveyed population updates its food consumption each year. The data analyzed in the second part of the article all stem from this statistical series as it is the most representative and comparable series of all existing Danish food consumption surveys. As the authorities were interested in the health and wellbeing of the productive parts of the population, only the working sectors of the population were included in the first surveys. However as the middle class increased over time, so did the segments included in the statistics.5

  • 6 Some recent historical work on Danish butter has also been conducted by Nielsen (2003, 2004). Both (...)

11The third analysis focuses on margarine, a product which has received extensive attention from a range of international historians. Most notably are the publications Margarine die Karriere der Kunstbutter [Margarine; career of the artificial butter] which focuses on the cultural history of German margarine. Another publication is Makt, marked og margarine - Om fettreguleringens politick [Power, market and margarine - The politics of fat regulation] which covers the Norwegian regulations of margarine in the 20th century (Fjær, 1990; Pelzer, 2001). A valuable source to the developments of the quality of Danish margarine is the publication Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993 (1996), issued by the Danish margarine industry that listed all the major developments and shifts in Danish production of margarine.6 It is a thorough, commemorative publication written from an industrial perspective with focus on important dates, laws, and machinery.

Food consumption, the social perspective

  • 7 A third, more diffuse segment can be added if one counts the work which focuses on practices, taste (...)

12The first two analyses in this article highlight the aggregated structural patterns which emerge from the consumption of individuals over time; a theme which has interested researchers in the dynamics of food consumption for decades. Research conducted within the humanities and the social sciences can be (roughly) divided into two segments.7 The first consists of researchers seeking to explain why food consumption patterns shape the way they do; the role of the individual and how cultural, social, economic, biological or psychological factors influence consumer behavior. For the other, researchers focus on the outcomes of consumer choice in order to uncover differences in consumption patterns between nations, social segments, and age/gender groups. This article belongs to the last segment as I focus on identifying developments and differences, not to explain why patterns of consumption were shaped the way they were. It is thus the aim of the article to focus on the registered consumption which, together with epidemiological and nutritional data, can shed light on which patterns coincided with heightened disease rates and thus help other sciences to seek out methods and strategies for future disease preventing campaigns and research.

13The validity of using class or social status as a means to identify significant structural differences in food consumption in Western Europe after World War II has been investigated extensively in sociological and historical studies. Before the war, social status was the measure employed in social statistic surveys as it was seen as the self-evident way to identify the significant differences in consumption within a Western European population. After the war however, the interest in social status declined as the income of Western populations rose and the differences in food consumption ceased to be a matter of life and death. That social status is still a good (and important) revealer of differences has however been proven by a number of researchers. The most prominent of these is Pierre Bourdieu’s Distinction, a social critique of the judgment of taste. Bourdieu established that analyzing cultural consumption by way of social/cultural status did show significant class-related patterns in France in the 1960s. This insight has inspired the work of the sociologist Alan Warde who in Consumption, Food and Taste (1997) rejects the validity of analyses where food consumption is seen as a mere market regulated, individualized choice, a perspective he believes to dominate in the consumption studies of the post war era. Warde (1997: 180-204) proves his notion by analyzing the persistence of difference in food consumption related to class, income, gender, and life-course stage in Britain from the 1960s to the 1990s. He establishes that social differences indeed still exist and thus show that knowledge about these provides important insights into present-day (1997) structural consumption patterns (ibid.: 124-125).

14In line with the work of Warde is the article “Social-class trends” in British Diet 1860-1980 by Nelson (1993) where he shows the persistence of class differentiated consumption in Britain over time. Where Warde emphasizes the persistence of class-related differences, Nelson (1993: 115-116) shows that even though they are still prominent, they have become less so since 1945. The results of Bourdieu, Warde, and Nelson thus indicate that, even if class differences were (and are) smaller in Denmark than in Britain and France, social status is a relevant matrix to seek out differences within the food culture of a Western nation in the 20th century, as well as for the post-war era.

Fat consumption, the aggregated perspective

Figure 1: The amount of butter, margarine and animal fat available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999 according to the supply for consume

Figure 1: The amount of butter, margarine and animal fat available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999 according to the supply for consume

Sources: Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry]1883-1993 (1996), Landbrugsstatistik [Rural statistics]1900-1965 Bd. 2 (1968), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1949), Statistisk Årbog [Statistical year Book] 1948-1955 (1956), Fagt & Trolle (2001)

15Figure 1 shows the developments in the per capita consumption of the three kinds of fats registered in the Danish supply for consume statistics; butter, margarine and animal fats. The animal fats consisted primarily of lard until 1955 after which it also contained tallow. The total registered amount of tallow fat per capita rose according to the statistic from 23, 8 kg in 1914 to 34, 2 kg per capita in 1972, after which it fell to 27, 2 kg in 1999.

16Between 1914 and 1999 the most popular fat product was margarine (Figure 1). Even if the per capita consumption of margarine as a general rule was typically higher than that of butter, the consumed amounts were by no means constant over the century.

  • 8 The vast increase in the production of margarine in 1888 is indicated in Dansk Margarineindustri [D (...)

17The Danes were fast to adopt margarine and integrate it into their diet. Between 1888 and 1916, consumption of margarine per capita rose from 0, 8 kg to 19 kg.8 The introduction of margarine on the Danish market thus led to a significant change in fat consumption and thereby also in the kinds of fatty acids consumed. The consumption of butter also rose between 1900 and 1913 from 7 kg to 8,5 kg, an increase which, compared to that of margarine, was insignificant. Moreover, as the consumption of animal fats remained constant (Figure 1), there is no inclination that margarine substituted any of the other fat products available on the market. On the contrary, it was a cheap and much needed additional source of energy.

  • 9 See for instance Bjørum & Heiberg (1916, 1917) for an evaluation of the high prices and their influ (...)

18During World War I, the production of margarine practically ceased in 1917 as the submarine blockade shut down the import of raw products (Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993, 1996: 52). The small amount of margarine produced was systematically transferred by the government to those purposes viewed as being most beneficial to the health of the entire population. As a result, the aggregated consumption of margarine declined from 19 kg per capita in 1915 and 1916 to a mere 0,4 kg in 1918. During the first three years of World War I, the consumption of margarine thus remained at, and even exceeded, pre-war levels. This was presumably a consequence of the high food prices of the time, which forced the population to substitute more food products than in times of peace, in order to be able to buy the same amount of calories.9 Unlike the consumption of margarine, that of butter declined from 8,1 kg per capita in 1914 to 3,2 kg in 1916 and then rose sharply to 14,5 kg in 1918, as butter was rationed to counteract the loss of margarine. This led to an increase in butter consumption as rations were set at 250 g of butter per person per week (Beretning til Indenrigsministeren, [Report to the Minister of the Interior], 1919: 92). It was, however, not enough to outweigh the absence of margarine, and conjoined, the consumption of the two products fell from 23,9 kg per capita to 14,9 kg in 1918.

19In the interwar years, consumption of both margarine and butter returned to their pre-war levels. During the 1930s, it reached 30 kg per capita of which 2/3 was margarine. During World War II, the production of margarine was once again affected by the cut-off of imported raw products and the restructuring of industrial facilities. As a result, both butter and margarine was rationed from April 15th 1940 until the end of the war. This once again led to a shift in the size and structure of fat consumption. The amount of margarine available per capita thus fell from 22,1 kg to 9,5 kg per capita between 1939 and 1940 and from 1942 margarine completely disappeared. As was also the case during World War 1, the consumption of butter resultantly increased from 8,7 kg in 1939 to over 16,9 kg in 1941 and finally to18 kg per capita in 1945. Once again the increase could not outweigh the absence of margarine, thus between 1939 and 1942 total consumption of the two products declined from 26,3 kg to 19,3 kg per capita. The low point was reached in 1947 where only 15,5 kg of margarine and butter could be consumed per capita. This was a result of the continued rationing and the difficulties which arose as the prewar system of food production was reestablished.

  • 10 The calculations are based on tables. Amounts have calculated per capita by way of official populat (...)
  • 11 Mixed products sold in Denmark consist of 70-80% of milk fat (conclusion based on private examinati (...)

201947 was a turning point and consumption of butter and margarine subsequently rose until 1958 where it reached 31 kg per capita. The highest consumption of butter in times of peace was reached that year and amounted to 13,5 kg per capita due to a sell-out of stored butter at extraordinary low prices. As consumption of butter rose in 1958, that of margarine declined from 19,9 kg to 17,5 kg. This shows that the need for fat had been met as total consumption had ceased to rise. The fact that amounts consumed in 1958 were exceptionally large can also been seen as total fat consumption slowly decreased from the end of the 1950s to the late 1980s. According to the statistics, the decline sped up in 1989 and between 1989 and 1999 it amounted to 10,4 kg per capita. Most likely this apparent decline resulted from the introduction of mixed fat products on the Danish market in 1990. No precise registrations of the mixed products exist but according to Fagt & Trolle (2001:20), consumption went from 0 kg in 1989 to a little more than 5 kg per capita in 1995. According to data from the Danish margarine industry, the amount of mixed products consumed per Dane in 1995-2000 was at approximately 4-4,5 kg (http://www.mifu.dk/​statistik, 11/5, 2010).10 The rising consumption of mixed products per capita thereby equalized the registered decline in butter consumption, which, if mixed products are counted as butter, means that this was roughly the same per capita in 1900 as it was in 1999.11

21This means that the decline in total consumption between 1990 and 1999 exclusively resulted from a decrease in margarine consumption from 14,9 kg in 1990 to 10 kg in 1999. The decline is most likely a result of the massive attention given to the damaging effects of the industrially produced trans fatty acids in Denmark during the 1990s which ultimately resulted in the first national ban against industrially produced fatty acids in 2003 (Bekendtgørelse [Announcement ] nr. 160 af 11/3, 2003).

  • 12 According to Fagt &Trolle (2001: 19), this increased uncertainty led to an exclusion of lard from t (...)
  • 13 According to Gormsen (1937: 9), the use of Danish lard in margarine was promoted vigorously in offi (...)

22Throughout the century, the consumption of butter and margarine was supplemented by one of pure animal fats. The estimates for animal fats most likely became increasingly unreliable over time as it is uncertain whether it was used for human consumption or in technical production in the second half of the century.12 At the beginning of the 20th century, lard was used in the poorer households as a cheap way to maximize the caloric content of the diet (Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993, 1996: 37). This was, however, no longer the case in the 1950s as each consumer by then had far more money to spend on food and the quality of margarine had been substantially improved. It is, however, possible that an increasing amount of animal fat was consumed through processed food products. It is also possible that some of the increase is caused by a double registration of animal fats as both raw products and margarine since the methods of registration shifted repeatedly over the century.13 All these uncertainties make it likely that leaving out the consumption of animal fats from 1950 on results in a more accurate account of the consumption of fat than including them.

23The last type of fat, which is however not registered in the original statistic, is vegetable oils. According to Fagt & Trolle (2001: 21), each Dane consumed 0,46 l of oils in 1981 and 1,5 l in 1997. When oil and mixed products are included in the total fat consumption and the animal fats are excluded from 1950 on, the graph for the total fat consumption changes to that shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Amount of butter, margarine, animal fats, vegetable oils and mixed products available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999

Figure 2: Amount of butter, margarine, animal fats, vegetable oils and mixed products available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999

Sources: Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993 (1996), Landbrugsstatistik [Rural statistics]1900-1965 Bd. 2 (1968), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1949), Statistisk Årbog [Statistical year Book] 1948-1955 (1956), Fagt & Trolle (2001), http://www.mifu.dk/​statistik

24The inclusion of the extra products thereby alters the appearance of the developments in the 1990s as the apparent decline towards the end of the century was in fact an increase led on by the introduction of new products on the Danish market. The consumption of fat was thus somewhat higher in the 1990s than it was in 1900. Even if this is a significant alteration of the official statistic, it is important to remember that total fat consumption between the mid-1920s and the mid-1970s was at approximately twice that amount per capita, and the majority of that was margarine.

25The supply for consumption statistic gives insights into the consumption pattern of the aggregated consumer. In reality, however, the different types of fat were by no means distributed equally among the different social layers of society. By establishing knowledge on social patterns of consumption, new insights into the everyday lives and living conditions of 20th century Danes are created. Furthermore, it becomes possible for epidemiologists in other analyses to evaluate and compare the epidemiological data with the consumption of fat products and thus perhaps gain new insights into how and why prevalence of lifestyle diseases differ between the different social segments.

Social patterns of fat consumption

  • 14 In 1999 Statistics Denmark did not publish geographically specific data. These can be requested upo (...)

Figure 3: The spread in amounts of fat bought in kg by the rich workers (Rw.) and the poor workers (Pw.) in Copenhagen (Cph.) and in the countryside (Country) 1909, 1956 and 199914

Figure 3: The spread in amounts of fat bought in kg by the rich workers (Rw.) and the poor workers (Pw.) in Copenhagen (Cph.) and in the countryside (Country) 1909, 1956 and 199914

Sources: Statistiske Meddelelser [statistical reports] (19141: 39-43), Statistiske Meddelelser (19142: 21- 25), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1958: 544-545), Statistiske Efterretninger (1956: 651), retail prices from 1999 was kindly given to me by Jørgen Dejgaard Jensen, www.Statistikbanken.dk FU5 1998:2000

  • 15 The workers are standardised consumers, as classifications in Forbrugsundersøgelserne [Households c (...)
  • 16 Fats were at the time perceived as negative marker goods (markørvare) as their share of the food bu (...)

26Data on social differences in the consumption of fats show how much butter, margarine, fat, and olive oil was bought by the richest and poorest workers in Copenhagen and in the countryside in 1909, 1956 and 1999.15 It is evident that the patterns of fat consumption shifted over time. In the survey from 1909, the richest workers, both in the countryside and in Copenhagen, bought a greater amount of fat than the poor workers. It is also clear that they chose to buy butter instead of margarine, a tendency that was strongest in Copenhagen. The fact that rich workers bought a larger quantity of fats hints that poor workers were unable to buy the calories they needed in 1909, as fats were by far the cheapest way to optimize the caloric content of the diet.16

  • 17 One example is consumption of organic food products which are more popular in Copenhagen than on th (...)

27The data from 1956 show that by then the poor workers bought the largest amounts of fats. This means that, at some point between 1909 and 1956, the poor workers became able to incorporate as much visible fat into their diet as they desired. The amount of fats bought by the rich workers had not risen significantly. Where the distribution of the total amount of fats bought was fairly equal between the capital and the countryside, another more qualitative division had appeared. In contrast with the workers in the country, the poor workers in Copenhagen bought larger amounts of butter than they did in 1909. In the countryside, neither rich nor poor workers prioritized butter but instead chose to buy large quantities of margarine. The poor workers in the countryside bought 30 kg of margarine per year and only 3 kg of butter, the rich around 23 kg of margarine and 8 kg of butter (Figure 3). The rich workers in the countryside even bought smaller amounts of butter than they did in 1909. This means that countryside workers consumed more margarine than the city dwelling workers did. Why the country dwelling workers chose to purchase margarine instead of butter when they could afford to buy as much of both as they desired, is an open question. As Warde (1997: 118-123) states, it is impossible to identify the mechanisms responsible for social differences in consumption by household budget surveys. It is merely possible to conclude that they did exist in Denmark both in 1909 and 1956, and additionally that geography was an important factor for consumer behavior in 1956. One explanation could, however, be that margarine (mostly) was cheaper than butter. The lower price might have been perceived as a positive quality in the countryside and as a negative quality in Copenhagen. The fact that there were differences in the perceptions of food quality is likely similar to how consumer behavior even today varies considerably between Copenhagen and the countryside.17 No matter the cause, it is an interesting feature that geography became more significant than social status in 1956. This indicates that geography is an important factor which must be included in historical studies of both consumption and epidemiological surveys if one is to obtain a more vivid image of the origins of differences in the health of Danes in the 20th century.

28Between 1956 and 1999, the total amount of fat bought declined dramatically, probably a result of an increased use of processed food. Processed foods are not registered in Forbrugsundersøgelserne as the surveys only focus on the purchase of pure food products. As geographical segmentation is not immediately available for the year 1999, the only identifiable differences are that the poor workers still bought a higher quantity of fats, and that they bought more margarine than the rich workers. However, when compared to 1909 and 1956, the difference was less pronounced. The trend towards diminishing social differences in food consumption over time is also identified by Nelson (1993: 108-109). He found that social differences in fat consumption in post World War II Britain were much smaller than those found in the first half of the 20th century. My results show that some of the decline in social differences has been replaced by geographical ones, as incomes increased enough to allow other factors such as lifestyle and perceptions of food quality to gain in importance.

29Overall, Figure 3 shows a clear tendency which lasted throughout the century. Poor workers bought significantly larger amounts of margarine than rich workers, and this was more so in 1956 than in the other two years. This means that certain parts of the Danish population consumed more fatty acids from margarine than other parts. In order to know why this is of importance to the knowledge on historical dietary impact on the human body, it is necessary to know which products went into the composition of the consumed margarine over time.

The composition of Danish margarine 1900-1965

  • 18 This is a large area of research. The beneficial effects of mono and poly unsaturated fats are well (...)
  • 19 See for instance Stender & Dyerberg (2006: 1650-1652).

30Today experts in human nutrition argue over the effects of mono- and poly- unsaturated and ruminant fatty acids on human health.18 However, with regards to the harmful effects of the industrially produced trans fatty acids, considerable consensus has been reached.19

  • 20 In my dissertation (Jensen, 2011), I undertake investigations of the development in the composition (...)

31It is known that butter throughout the century consisted of milk fat. However, it is relatively certain that its specific composition of fatty acids nonetheless changed over time as feeding and breeding regimes shifted. The same can be said for the fatty acid composition in animal fats. Investigations of those changes need more careful historical analyses before the extent and importance of these shifts are known.20 Margarine, on the other hand, was as an industrial product which was subject to many changes as prices and accessibility of the different raw products changed continuously.

  • 21 For a presentation of laws and official guidelines, see Cohn (1933: 124-125).

32The fact that the quality of margarine was ever changing was highlighted from its introduction in Denmark in the 1880s. The law on fabrication and trade of margarine from 1888 defined margarine as “butter-like products of all origin, mixture and composition, as long as they do not contain milk” (Lov om fabrikation og forhandling af margarine, [Law on manufacturing and marketing of margarine]1888). This unspecific definition remained unchanged over time and it allowed margarine to consist of all imaginable types of fat except for pure butter. In spite of the broad definition, this and following laws show that margarine was not produced in a legal void.21

Figure 4: Raw products used in the Danish production of margarine from 1905-1965 (percentages).

 

1905-6

1906-7

1907-8

1908-9

1911

1916

1924

1934

1954

1965

Oleomargarin

26,4

30,2

26,1

22,3

11,9

3,8

2,2

0,5

0

0

Neutral lard

32,8

26,8

27

28,5

7,6

1,5

0,9

2,9

0

0

Premier jus

15,4

16,9

18,9

18,1

10,7

4

4,3

6

8

3,6

Whale oil (+ fish oil 1965)

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

17,4

34,8

Lard

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

7,6

Hardened oil

0

0

0

0

0

1,3

1,5

19,3

0,1

0

Coconut oil

10

7,7

8,6

11,9

45,9

61,7

63

38,4

30,2

16,1

Arachid and Cotton oil

10,8

5,3

4,5

6

0

0

0

0

0

0

Arachid

0

0

0

0

5,7

5,6

0

0

0

0

Cotton

0

0

0

0

7,1

7,3

3,8

2,1

2,4

0

Sesame oil

1,8

10,6

9,9

9,2

10,3

10,7

7

5,6

2,9

0,3

Soybean oil

0

0

0

0

0

4,2

6,5

13,9

5

16,2

Palm oil

0

0

0

0

0

0

0,5

2,6

4

0,5

Peanut oil*

0

0

0

0

0

0

4,7

2

0,8

0,3

Sunflower oil

0

0

0

0

0

0

3,1

0

0

Other fats

2,8

2,4

4,9

3,9

0,7

0

0

0,7

0

5

Hardened veg. oil

0

0

0

0

0

0

1,7

5,7

4,7

0

Skimmed milk

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

14,2

11,6

Vitamins

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0,6

0

Lecithin

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0,2

0,3

Sources: Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1919), Statistiske Efterretninger (1926), Statistiske Efterretninger (1935), Statistiske Meddelelser [Statistical reports] (1956), Statistiske Meddelelser (1967)

33* Arachid oil was renamed peanutoil.

  • 22 Neutral Lard was hog lard and Premier Jus was melted fat (primarily ox).

34Figure 4 shows the raw products used by the Danish margarine industry from 1905 to 1965. After 1965, the information became more unsystematic due to changes in registration. The shift from predominantly animal raw products to vegetable ones between 1905 and 1916 was the most dramatic development of margarine in the 20th century. In 1908-09, 68% of the raw products used were of animal origin. This had been reduced to 30% in 1911. The animal fats used consisted of Oleomargarin, Neutral Lard and Premier Jus, of which the first was by far the most popular.22 Oleomargarin consisted of refined and pressed ox tallow and was primarily imported from the US (Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993, 1996: 40). The reason for the switch to vegetable raw products was a result of rising of international prices on tallow from 1905 and forth.

35Animal fats were replaced by coconut oil which came into systematic use around 1900, as it became possible to remove its dominant flavor. From 1905, coconut became increasingly popular because it was tasteless, cheap and firm at room temperature. Animal fats had made the production of margarine with a soft consistency easy due to their high melting point. It proved possible to employ the same technique when using coconut and the shift did thereby not require any dramatic changes in production (Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993, 1996: 61). Coconut had one additional advantage, namely its lack of color. This was of immense importance to the industry as it had been illegal to produce or sell margarine whose color resembled that of butter since 1888 (Lov nr. 53 af 5 april 1888, 1888). This ban was introduced by the Danish government to protect the export of butter and it was not lifted until 1925 (Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993, 1996: 17-21).

36The shift from animal to vegetable raw products was more marked than presented in the table, as the amount of milk and butter used in production was not included in the statistic until the 1950s. Butter and milk was, especially in the early years of production, an important ingredient. According to the law of 1888 margarine was allowed to consist of up to 50% milk fat. That was gradually lowered until 1925, when it had decreased to 3% (Lov nr. 95 1925 om tilvirkning og forhandling af margarine, [Law on the preparation and negotiation of margarine], 1925). Until 1925 a substantial part of margarine was, in fact, butter. Recipes from 1914 indicate that a content of up to 15 % was normal (Nielsen, 1914). Until 1925 it was allowed to add ready-made butter; after it could only be added in the shape of cream or other unprocessed milk products (Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993, 1996: 59). The adding of butter was presumably a necessity in the early years in order to produce an edible product.

37As the primary target of the laws on margarine issued before World War I was to emphasize the difference between margarine and butter, restrictions on the composition of margarine were introduced. In 1905 a decree was issued which stated that sesame oil should be included in all types of margarine. As sesame oil could easily be identified in laboratory tests, any trace of it would reveal whether a product could be labeled as butter or not. This meant that the addition of sesame oil in the margarine increased from 1,7 % of the raw products in 1905 to the legal 10 % in 1906-07 (see Figure 4).

38After the shift from animal to vegetable raw products, the list of oils gradually expanded. Arachid and cotton were, as coconut, some of the first ones to enter into the products in large amounts. Later soybean, sunflower, peanut and palm oil followed. 1916 was the first year where the unspecified category “hardened oils” appeared. The use of this category increased dramatically after World War I. In 1924 hardened oils amounted to 3,2 % of the raw products, in 1934 their share had increased to 25 %. The increased use of hardened oils allowed for a replacement of the coconut oil with other types of oils as the process of hardening changed the melting point of the oils. This led to what was at the time an unproblematic rise in the content of industrially produced trans fatty acids.

39While the fatty acid composition was not an issue of interest to experts and industry, that of vitamins was very much so. The increased awareness of the importance of vitamins changed the contents of margarine, as it became legal to include 14-18 international units of A- vitamin and 0,1-1 units of vitamin D per gram of margarine in 1937 (Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993, 1996: 83). The addition of vitamins had for some time been a desire of the margarine industry as it wanted its products to mimic the nutritional composition of butter (Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993, 1996: 116). The vitaminisation shows how margarine, unlike the unprocessed fats, could adjust to the nutritional knowledge and debates of society. It also exemplifies the fact that this adjustment happened on the initiative of the industry as it saw them as a means to increase the desirability of margarine.

40Regulations of the fatty acid composition in margarine were not issued before the law on margarine from 1985. In it was stated that the content of the different types of fatty acids should be specified on the labels on the packets (Bekendtgørelse af 20. maj [Order of May 20th] 1985, 1985).

41After the 1950s it is unfortunately not possible to follow the use of hardened and unhardened oils in the statistic. In 1965 information on raw products also disappears and information for the following decades is more sporadic.

42It is mentioned in Dansk Margarineindustri that rapeseed came to be an important raw product in the latter part of the century and that the development of products with specific fat profiles increased. It appears that the most important raw products included soybean, palm, rapeseed, and sunflower oils. Among these, palm and rapeseed appear to have been most prevalent (Dansk Margarineindustri 1883-1993, 1996: 140). It is also evident that hardening continued and that no alternative solutions were implemented.

43It is thereby not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the composition of fat in margarine after 1965. It is, however, possible to conclude that the raw products did change continuously and that new types of fat were introduced whenever the industry deemed it economically and technically possible. It is furthermore possible to conclude that hardening remained an important technique throughout the latter decades of the century.

  • 23 These can be traced in publications such as that from the Symposium under auspices of the Internati (...)

44The health related effects of industrially produced trans fatty acids was the subject of much debate from the 1960s and onward.23 The Danish industry responded to the debate by creating new products with an increased content of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a range of low fat products. From 2003 the ban against the use of industrially produced fatty acids resulted in a substitution of all hardened fats with unhardened types.

Concluding remarks

45When the developments in both aggregated and socio-geographical consumption of fat is compared with the qualitative changes of the margarine, several developments stand out. Firstly: consumption of fatty acids changed for the average Dane over time. In the years 1900 to 1914 the consumed fat products primarily contained animal fatty acids. These came from a combination of butter, margarine, and pure animal fats. After World War I, margarine was primarily of vegetable origin but at the same time it came to entail increasing amounts of saturated fats, initially from coconut oil and later from the industrially trans fatty acids in the hardened oils. The rise in the content of industrially produced fatty acids in margarine coincided with an average consumption of more than 20 kg margarine per person per year and the biggest spread in socio-geographical consumption of the 20th century.

46In the last decades of the century, consumption of margarine declined while other products such as olive oil and, beginning in 1990, mixed products increased in popularity. This means that even if the Danes consumed on average a larger amount of fat products in 1999 than in 1900, they contained significantly larger proportions of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids than they had at the beginning and the middle parts of the 20th century.

47The three analyses on the developments of fat consumption in Denmark thus reveal that changes occurred on multiple levels over time. Even if these analyses do not explain why cardio-vascular diseases or obesity are found more often in certain segments of the Danish population, they do help to identify both aggregated and social consumption patterns. Furthermore, they shed light on the historical divergences in the intake of industrially produced trans fatty acids and thus provide new insights into the everyday life and eating habits of the Danes throughout the 20th century.

48Today epidemiologists and nutritional scientists primarily gain their knowledge from intervention studies lasting only a few weeks. Historical analyses, however, have the potential to shed light on the effects of long-term dietary patterns on the lifespan and health of past and present populations. Historical analyses can moreover identify important factors such as income and geography and show how the importance of these has shifted over time. These are insights, which may prove useful in preventive health strategies. Finally, this article shows that knowledge on the historical quality of food products is vital to the understanding of their influence on the human bodies. As each individual lives and thus eats for several decades, knowledge not only on the foods of the present but also of the past is needed to understand and influence both present and future developments in the prevalence of lifestyle diseases.

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Notes

1 This can be seen in textbooks on human nutrition eg. Nedergaard (2006). The majority of the clinical nutritional intervention studies performed in the multidisciplinary research center Danish Obesity Research Center (Danorc) also highlights this tendency, see http://www.danorc.dk/?q=publications.

2 A complete image of the combination of fatty acids in the historical diet does obviously require an analysis of all the food products eaten. This is however too extensive for this article. A complete analysis of the dietary developments in 20th Denmark can be found in Jensen (2011).

3 The majority of the historical work on food in the 19th century was carried out under the project Mad, Drikke og Tobak under Ole Hyldtoft between 2004-2010 at the University of Copenhagen. This project has resulted in four volumes so far.

4 Demographic developments meant that the aggregated consumer (per capita) changed continuously over time.

5 In 1976 also non-working parts of the population were included in the surveys Statistiske Efterretninger [statistical News ] (1980).The non-working segments have been removed from the data in Figure 4 as they would have weakened the comparability of the standard consumers over time.

6 Some recent historical work on Danish butter has also been conducted by Nielsen (2003, 2004). Both articles focus on the importance of science to the export and production of butter around 1900.

7 A third, more diffuse segment can be added if one counts the work which focuses on practices, taste, gastronomy, and sensory experiences.

8 The vast increase in the production of margarine in 1888 is indicated in Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry]1883-1993 (1996: 28) and described as a direct result of a rise in the relative cost of butter.

9 See for instance Bjørum & Heiberg (1916, 1917) for an evaluation of the high prices and their influence on consumption patterns.

10 The calculations are based on tables. Amounts have calculated per capita by way of official population estimates for the given years.

11 Mixed products sold in Denmark consist of 70-80% of milk fat (conclusion based on private examinations of labels as the precise combination of ingredients is classified).

12 According to Fagt &Trolle (2001: 19), this increased uncertainty led to an exclusion of lard from the statistics in 1993 but there is reason to believe that the data lost its credibility long before the exclusion.

13 According to Gormsen (1937: 9), the use of Danish lard in margarine was promoted vigorously in official guidelines.

14 In 1999 Statistics Denmark did not publish geographically specific data. These can be requested upon payment.

15 The workers are standardised consumers, as classifications in Forbrugsundersøgelserne [Households consumption surveys] changed over time. In order to create comparable data, I chose the segments from the richest and poorest workers I judge to be comparable.

16 Fats were at the time perceived as negative marker goods (markørvare) as their share of the food budget increased with declining income (Statistiske Meddelelser [statistical reports], 19141: 45).

17 One example is consumption of organic food products which are more popular in Copenhagen than on the countryside.

18 This is a large area of research. The beneficial effects of mono and poly unsaturated fats are well established. The harmful effects of the ruminant trans fatty acids are, however, a topic of much debate as most recent results suggest that a significant intake of saturated fats through cheese is harmless whereas a large intake of butter might increase the risk of cardio-vascular diseases see for instance Astrup et al. (2010: 684-688).

19 See for instance Stender & Dyerberg (2006: 1650-1652).

20 In my dissertation (Jensen, 2011), I undertake investigations of the development in the composition of fatty acids in Danish pork over the 20th century.

21 For a presentation of laws and official guidelines, see Cohn (1933: 124-125).

22 Neutral Lard was hog lard and Premier Jus was melted fat (primarily ox).

23 These can be traced in publications such as that from the Symposium under auspices of the International Federation of Margarine Associations in Wiesbaden 1963.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: The amount of butter, margarine and animal fat available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999 according to the supply for consume
Credits Sources: Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry]1883-1993 (1996), Landbrugsstatistik [Rural statistics]1900-1965 Bd. 2 (1968), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1949), Statistisk Årbog [Statistical year Book] 1948-1955 (1956), Fagt & Trolle (2001)
URL http://aof.revues.org/docannexe/image/7100/img-1.png
File image/png, 44k
Title Figure 2: Amount of butter, margarine, animal fats, vegetable oils and mixed products available for consumption per capita per year in Denmark 1900 to 1999
Credits Sources: Dansk Margarineindustri [Danish Margarine Industry] 1883-1993 (1996), Landbrugsstatistik [Rural statistics]1900-1965 Bd. 2 (1968), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1949), Statistisk Årbog [Statistical year Book] 1948-1955 (1956), Fagt & Trolle (2001), http://www.mifu.dk/​statistik
URL http://aof.revues.org/docannexe/image/7100/img-2.png
File image/png, 49k
Title Figure 3: The spread in amounts of fat bought in kg by the rich workers (Rw.) and the poor workers (Pw.) in Copenhagen (Cph.) and in the countryside (Country) 1909, 1956 and 199914
Caption Sources: Statistiske Meddelelser [statistical reports] (19141: 39-43), Statistiske Meddelelser (19142: 21- 25), Statistiske Efterretninger [Statistical News] (1958: 544-545), Statistiske Efterretninger (1956: 651), retail prices from 1999 was kindly given to me by Jørgen Dejgaard Jensen, www.Statistikbanken.dk FU5 1998:2000
URL http://aof.revues.org/docannexe/image/7100/img-3.png
File image/png, 24k
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References

Electronic reference

Tenna Jensen, « The consumption of fats in Denmark 1900-2000  », Anthropology of food [Online], S7 | 2012, Online since 11 January 2013, connection on 22 July 2017. URL : http://aof.revues.org/7100

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About the author

Tenna Jensen

University of Copenhagen, SAXO-Institute, Department of History, tennaje@hum.ku.dk

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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