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Modern Parenthood

Christmas without butter?! Norway's perpetually uncertain butter supply

Is it Christmas without butter? Norway may offer lavish social benefits from universal healthcare to generous parental leave, but it doesn't have enough cows to produce enough butter.

By Guest Blogger / December 20, 2012

Butter can be hard to find in Norway because it hasn't got enough cows and the government's protectionist policies make it hard to import enough to meet demands.

Courtesy of Saleha Mohsin

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Oslo

I've spent my first year in Norway trying to figure out what's wrong with this country. The work-to-life balance is ideal, the health care is great, and parental benefits are extravagant. It sounds utopian. But a recent trip to the grocery store revealed the darker side of Norway: there aren't enough cows.

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Saleha Mohsin is an American journalist living in Norway with her British husband, Faisal, and their two-year-old son, Mazen. She grew up in Ohio and worked in London, where she wrote for the popular British tabloid The Daily Mirror and Businessweek. Her experiences as an expat living in Oslo are the basis of her Edge of the Arctic blog.

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Let me start from the beginning. I was supposed to bake a lovely cardamom bread for a recent potluck last weekend but I couldn’t find any unsalted butter. I went to three grocery stores and checked again throughout the week with no luck. There was regular butter and margarine in varying degrees of healthiness but nothing that I could bake with.

And now I’m getting nervous because last year there was a major butter shortage in Norway and I wonder if it’s going to happen again.

A butter crisis? It is such a strange concept. There’s rarely a shortage of any kind in the US. You walk into a store and you’ll find everything in abundance: aisles of ketchup, 20-packs of baby bibs stacked ceiling high, a 40-pack of toilet rolls. There’s no such thing as running out of the basics and there’s no such thing as buying just one.

I didn’t tell anyone back home about the butter famine because I was embarrassed that I had just moved to a place that, however modern or wealthy it was, couldn’t provide me with something so basic. Swapping homemade butter techniques was a normal conversation here last year. I couldn’t hide it for long because Stephen Colbert got wind of the story.

Mr. Colbert says the crisis was the result of a popular low-carb diet but that was an excuse a local dairy company tried out on the angry public. Actually it was because Norwegian farmers don’t have enough cows to meet local demands for dairy products and because of the government’s draconian protectionist policies that limit importing.

So there it is, the fly in the ointment: an extreme case of protectionism.

Protectionist policies in Norway include high import tariffs, import quotas and millions of dollars in subsidies for domestic farmers as incentives to continue production despite the difficult geographic and climate conditions so close to the Arctic. These policies are supposed to protect local products and the jobs they bring to the economy.

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