When the chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries developed margarine back in 1869, he wasn't worried about heart disease. He just wanted to create a spreadable, edible fat for the masses. Back then butter was expensive, obesity was a problem only a privileged few could afford, and fat, when you could get your hands on it, was good.
Those were the days before partially-hydrogenated soybean oil had helped make nacho-cheese flavored corn chips into a national treasure, so Mege-Mouries based his formula on saturated animal fats, using beef suet flavored with milk.
In nature, only animal fats are saturated, which means they have as many hydrogen atoms as the chain of carbon atoms that holds them together can stand. This makes them semi-solid at room temperature, producing the spreadable, melt-in-your-mouth consistency of butter. (Unless you live near the equator... but I digress.) On the down side, saturated fats have been linked to arteriosclerosis and heart disease.
By contrast, vegetable fats are unsaturated in their natural state, and are liquid at room temperature as a result. Great for misting over your salad, and easier on your heart, but not much for slathering over a mound of blueberry pancakes.
Then came the miracle of hydrogenation, which is the process of bubbling hydrogen through unsaturated fat, producing a fat that mimics the spreadable, semi-solid qualities of saturated fat, but is slower to grow rancid, and more economical to boot. These synthetic molecules, called trans fatty acids, seemed to deliver the best of both worlds. Creamy peanut butter was born. And it was good.
Then in 1999, the F.D.A. announced its proposal to list the trans fatty acid content of food on labels along with saturated fat, due to a growing body of evidence that trans fats are at least as bad as the saturated fats they were designed to mimic, and maybe worse.
This was bad news to Big Food and legions of consumers (who doesn't have at least one trans fatty addiction?), but it was a watershed moment for the zealous partisans of REAL FOOD, from organic-loving hippie types to professional chefs and die-hard gourmands. Suddenly butter wasn't sinful, it was the right thing to do, lumped as honest food under the same wholesome category as mache and heirloom tomatoes. Factor in the subversive influence of the low-carb revolution, and the current trend is clear: Bring on the bacon, butter, and cream. Real fat is back, and once again it's dressed up as one of the good guys.
And trans Fatty Blog was born, dedicated to real food, real flavor, and the notion that fat, by any other name, is still the same.