Call me crazy, but I believe butter is a health food. (It can even protect against diabetes!) So, not long ago, when someone was treating me to breakfast and took me to I.H.O.P., I asked the waiter if he could bring me butter. He brought me margarine.
“Excuse me,” I asked him politely, “but do you have any butter butter? Real butter, I mean, not margarine?” His momentarily confused expression quickly passed, and then he promised to go ask his manager.
Five minutes later, the manager came out and asked me what I wanted. I reiterated that I simply wanted some butter. I wasn’t trying to be a pain, but surely the restaurant had real butter somewhere back in the kitchen.
Five minutes later, he returned. “We don’t have any butter,” he said.
That big scoop of creamy, salty, yellow stuff on the pancakes you eat there? Margarine. The little single serving pats they bring out with your toast? Margarine. The “butter” you asked them to cook your eggs in instead of refined vegetable oil? Margarine.
Making this discovery started my quest. I wanted to see how many chain restaurants even had butter.
Nearly half a year later, and can you guess what I’ve discovered?
One. One restaurant out of dozens.
Over the past 6 months, I’ve eaten out more than I have at any other time in my life. I’ve been to small town family-owned cafes and expensive fine dining. I’ve been to the local, hip places serving grass-fed beef and the major restaurants dishing up oysters and pate. These places all have their pitfalls — almost no restaurant serves the same food I eat when I’m at home. But many of them did serve real butter, which I’ve come to realize is quite rare.
Of the chain restaurants I’d been taken to — from Olive Garden to Denny’s to Outback Steakhouse — only one out of the dozens I’d visited had real butter!
You’d expect more of them to have butter, wouldn’t you?
I think butter has gone the way of broth. I’ll never forget the conversation I had a couple of years ago in a little Mexican taqueria near my house. Their rice had clearly been cooked in broth, so I asked if they made the broth themselves.
“Oh yes,” the head cook replied.
“So, you boil the chicken carcass to make your broth?”
“Oh no,” he said frowning. “We get our broth dehydrated, like a bullion, and add hot water.”
These are confusing times.
That taqueria cook was confused. So was the waiter at I.H.O.P.
They’re confused because we’re part of a generation that grew up calling the tub of Country Crock in our fridge “butter” at the dining table.
Yet, if I’d ordered Coke, they wouldn’t just bring me a Pepsi without telling me first. Someone would say, “We don’t serve Coca Cola products here.”
What does it say about us that when I ask for butter, I get margarine? Or that when I ask for butter again, I get confused looks? Or that when I ask if a broth is homemade, I’m told yes? Since when is margarine butter? Or adding water to a bullion mix “homemade”?
We’ve got a long way to go, people.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy when a place serves up grass-fed beef, or makes the switch to all organic dairy or locally-grown produce.
But when you can ask for butter and get margarine, over and over and over again, in restaurant after restaurant, you know we’ve got a long way to go.