Rivalry: TMSIDK Episode 17

Listen now:

Margarine vs. butter: one of history’s hottest rivalries? (Photo: Flickr)

In the early 1900s, the U.S. government regulated a new product, called margarine, so heavily that it prompted the rise of margarine moonshiners. Margarine was first developed by a French chemist in 1869, and the dairy industry panicked almost immediately. Congress fought viciously over margarine. A Wisconsin senator called it a monstrous product of greed and hypocrisy.

Eventually, the dairy lobby successfully pushed through laws to restrict the sale of margarine. The government made it illegal to dye margarine yellow, making it less appealing as a butter substitute. The substance was heavily taxed and stores and restaurants had to be licensed to sell it, leading to the rise of margarine moonshiners.

We kick-off the third season of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know with a show on competition of all kinds: athletic, sexual, geopolitical, and the little-known battle between butter and margarine that landed in the Supreme Court. Our panelists are:

Steve Levitt, my Freakonomics friend and co-author, who didn’t quite fit-in with sports teams.

Bridget Gainer, Cook County commissioner, who took a sibling rivalry well into college.

Scott Turow, lawyer and author of Testimony, who faced-down another best-selling author in the courtroom.

Our real-time fact-checker is WBEZ’s Tricia Bobeda, co-host of the Nerdette podcast.