The Jew And The Carrot

I Can’t Believe There’s No Butter

By Katherine Martinelli

  • Print
  • Share Share

Around October people in Israel started to notice that the usual 227-gram blocks of butter were becoming more difficult to come by. By November, even the smaller, marked up 100-gram packs were scarce. And before the start of December, supermarket shelves were wiped clean of butter, meagerly offering margarine and other whipped oil products as replacements.

Israel is in the midst of the worst butter shortage in the country’s brief history. We’re talking more serious than the period of rations known as the Tzena, or “the Austerity,” immediately following the declaration of independence. So why is a trip to the grocery store suddenly reminiscent of the 1950s? A combination of increased demand, global warming, kashrut dietary restrictions, and protective tariffs are behind the scarcity.

To start, a demand for dairy products in Israel has unexpectedly risen by 3-5% in the past year, when previously consumption had been going down. Add onto that global climate change marked by an unseasonably warm fall (with temperatures as high as 96°F in the south during October). Cows produce far less milk in the heat and Israeli dairy farmers usually rely heavily on cool autumns and winters to build up a surplus to last through the year. When dairy is short, it is used for staples like milk and cream rather than butter, which is labor intensive to make and not as essential (although I would beg to differ).

At first, small groceries in Tel Aviv were hiding butter for regulars or rationing butter to two packs per customer (now they’ve mostly run out). When allowed, people have been seen buying as much butter as possible and hoarding it. I’ll admit that in moments of desperation I’ve even taken home butter packets from cafes; they have come in handy. Also, lucky for me, I’ve got a guy. I’m not sure how this one vendor at the shuk in Be’er Sheva maintains a supply of butter (and at only a two shekel, or 50 cent, mark-up) when the major supermarket chains are at a loss, but I don’t ask too many questions.

Not everyone has suffered from the butter shortage. Etai Spivak, owner of the popular Dining Hall restaurant in Tel Aviv reports: “Since we rely very little on butter and use mainly olive oil we were hardly affected.” Indeed, since the Israeli diet is decidedly Mediterranean, the butter shortage hasn’t created the same national crisis it might in, say, France. Additionally, since parve baked goods are part of the norm in Israel, many are used to baking sans butter.

While some people are content to lead a butter-free existence, the rest of us have been waiting feverishly for the Israeli government to take action. Increasing the amount of imported butter would appear to be a simple solution, but in Israel this is complicated. The Finance Ministry has major tariffs in place to protect the local dairy industry, so imported dairy is taxed an additional 140-160%, and is limited to about 550 tons in a market of 9,000 tons of production. In addition, since dairy in Israel is under close rabbinical supervision, importing products requires additional steps to ensure its adherence to kashrut.

In response to the dire situation, however, the Israeli Finance Ministry finally removed the import tax on butter. The tariff will remain lifted only until January, 2011, hopefully just long enough to get Israel’s butter business back on track. Moreover, to help meet demand, the Agriculture Ministry has agreed to allow 12 new dairy farms to be built.

Butter hasn’t been the only victim of Israel’s particularly hot year. Tomato and potato prices have skyrocketed and the country was even threatened with a hummus shortage because of a dearth of legumes (talk about a potential national crisis). Taxes on imported tomatoes and potatoes have also been canceled until the end of the year to reduce the shortage and lower prices.

Slowly, butter is returning to store shelves. Irish and Dutch butter have been spotted at select supermarkets for more than double the cost of its Israeli equivalent (upwards of $5 per cup instead of the standard $2 or so). It comes slapped with an extra sticker in Hebrew, sometimes verifying that it has been approved by a rabbi. Today I came across big blocks of butter, wrapped simply in unlabeled parchment, at a Russian, non-kosher market near my house. I stocked up.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tzena, Israel, Butter

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Selma. Nearly 50 years ago it was violent Selma, impossibly racist Selma, site of Bloody Sunday, when peaceful civil rights marchers made their first attempt to cross the Pettus Street Bridge on the way to the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama." http://jd.fo/r50mf With the 50th anniversary approaching next spring, a new coalition is bringing together blacks, Jews and others for progressive change.
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.