Japan's Butter Scarcity Causes Traditional Christmas Treat To Be In Short Supply

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This holiday season, the people of Japan are dealing with an unusual food crisis - a butter shortage! Though that would not be a problem any other time of the year, it is during Christmas, because of an age-old Japanese tradition of celebrating the day with a delectable strawberry and cream sponge cake that is baked with . . . lots of butter!

While most stores are out of the dairy product, the few that have some in stock are limiting shoppers to just a packet each - hardly enough to bake the beloved treat. Some bakeries have even resorted to using substitutes like margarine, which they believe will be more palatable to consumers, than having to pay astronomical prices for sponge cake made from real butter or even worse, having no cake at all!

So how did a buttery sponge cake become the centerpiece of Japan's Christmas celebrations? According to historians, though the confectionery has been available in Japan since the 17th century, it was a luxury only the rich could afford. That's because the ingredients - sugar, milk and butter - were too expensive for most residents. As the economy rebounded after World War II, the ingredients became more widely available and Japan's upcoming middle class adopted the cake as a status symbol.

Though Christmas in not an official holiday in Japan, the ritual of sharing the sponge cake as a family on the 25th, is now deeply entrenched in the local culture. What's interesting is that everything about the delectable treat is symbolic - the red and white coloring pays respect to the Japanese flag, while the round shape serves as a dedication to the country's many shrines.

The agriculture ministry attributes the butter shortage to this year's brutally hot summer. According to the officials, the heat left the dairy cows exhausted, reducing their milk-producing capability substantially.

Of course, that is only part of the story. Though the situation this Christmas is extremely dire, dairy shortages are becoming increasingly common on this island nation. Part of the problem is aging farmers who have no one to take over their farms when they retire. The bigger issue however is that declining milk consumption prompted the Japanese government to curtail the country's dairy herd in 2007, reducing the number of milk-producing cows from a high of 2.11 million in 1985, to the current number of 1.4 million.

Though in most countries, the seasonal surge in demand would be fulfilled with imported butter, the high tariffs imposed on the product by the Japanese government make that option prohibitively expensive. Even so, the nation was forced to import 7,000 tons of butter in May and a further 3,000 tons in September. But these imports have not made a dent in fulfilling the Christmas demand. So what is a Japanese resident to do? Savor every bite of the buttery sponge cake (if they can get their hands on one) or settle for a cake made using margarine!

the guardian.com,npr.com

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VocabularyPlay Game

astronomicalattributesbrutallycenterpiececonfectioneryconsumptioncurtaildedicationdelectabledentdireentrenchedmargarinepalatableprohibitivelyreboundedritualsavorshrinessubstantiallysubstitutessymbolictariffs

Geography

Japan
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Reading Comprehension (3 questions)

  1. What crisis is Japan facing? Why is it such a big deal? What are some bakeries doing to solve the issue?
  2. How did sponge cake gain so much prominence in Japan? What do the different aspects of the cake symbolize?
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Critical Thinking Challenge

What Christmas treat or tradition would you miss the most? Why?

274 Comments
  • zaiannahTuesday, March 5, 2019 at 7:10 am
    omgoodnesss looks so goood!!!!
    • hah
      hahThursday, February 28, 2019 at 8:03 am
      it looks delishous
      • HazebazeThursday, January 10, 2019 at 8:44 am
        looks good but to much butter
        • pew die pie Friday, December 14, 2018 at 9:41 am
          it looks good
          • pew die pie Friday, December 14, 2018 at 9:37 am
            looks good i would try it
            • MEYA Monday, October 22, 2018 at 12:09 pm
              LOVE IT SO MUCH COMING TO JAPAN
              • lilly354Wednesday, June 27, 2018 at 10:24 am
                The tariffs are to high for the Japan people to buy and to make the butter to up hold the tradition of making the delectable cake.
                • meadowlark12
                  meadowlark12Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 2:13 pm
                  that is sort of sad.
                  • hi bobWednesday, January 10, 2018 at 8:23 am
                    please make more butter
                    • hi bobWednesday, January 10, 2018 at 8:08 am
                      that looks ymmy

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