Fat is essential. It is as important to the human body as water and air. It supplies more energy than other macronutrients and is indispensable for those micro ones: vitamins D, E, A, and K can’t be absorbed without it. Our organs and cells depend on it for protection and our shiny hair and tight skin have mostly fat to thank.
How fat was shamed off the table is probably one of the saddest stories written by contemporary civilisation. After serving human survival for thousands of years we’ve allowed misleading science and manipulative industries to create an unprecedented fear of the oh-so-loyal slippery substance.
About 40 years ago, fats – and those saturated in particular – were called to the stand and despite being central to our diet for so long, no one managed to testify in their favour. Instead, history taught us nothing and the 1970s brought upon a heart-diet hypothesis, the American Dietary Guidelines and the sugar association, all advocating fat as a villain. Our loyal guardian was tossed aside at once. It wasn’t long until the whole United States of America was low-fat, fat-free and the rest of the world followed the trend. Butter, lard, tallow and cream became a gluttonous indulgence and inventions such as the heroin chic and the Mediterranean diet boomed, as if to justify this new fashion. Suddenly, the idea of eating fat and being fat no longer stood for their differences.
But as every coin has two sides, every point of extreme has to have a counter point – recently, for the first time in centuries, we are witnessing a rise in the voice urging society to acknowledge that “fat is beautiful”. At large, this statement is mostly being articulated by women in what can easily be mistaken as a pioneering call for awakening.
It goes without saying that women indulging in a shiny dripping pork chop striped thick white lines is indeed a powerful image – eating fat is a beautiful act of female empowerment. In our long history, at times that fat did have a place of honour in society, it was mostly the men who were entitled to it. When a hunt was concluded successfully, male pastors would – and in some tribes still – carve the animal open while in the woods and drink from the marrow as a tribute of celebration. Women were largely in charge of plant gathering, and were mostly given dried or lean meats if at all. The only exceptions might have been made at times of illness or pregnancy. Otherwise the fattier parts such as offal, stomach and bone marrow were preserved for the men. Because Jessam One can’t help but wonder how history would have written itself if women were indulging equally on livers and brains – would our bodies look and function differently? And would our place in society be more associated with power? Perhaps questions worth keeping in mind the next time we nibble on a salad hoping to satisfy our hunger without expanding our waistlines. And the discussion continues beyond the fat – meat in general has been a big subject of gender discussion. The feminist theorist Carol Adams calls meat THE symbol of patriarchy and many others have claimed that the only way to rid ourselves of male dominance is to get rid of meat consumption all together. On the other hand, avoiding it – as I see it – is just the same as encouraging one to think fat is beautiful. Both are to play by the same rules we wish to break.
Fixing the errors of the once appreciated skinny body by an appreciated fat one is healing ill with ill. Actually, fats, and ironically the saturated animal ones in particular, have been often said to decrease weight gain. A good – moderate and high quality – consumption of saturated fats allows for a slower digestion and a greater, longer feeling of satiety which tends to prevent unnecessary munching during the day: not only good for the body but as well for the soul which more than all enjoys those moments of pleasure given by uncompromising taste: “Fat gives things flavour” said Julia Child in what was hardly a subjective statement. Fat have larger, rounder molecules that help transport many aromas and allow many flavours that without it wouldn’t be made possible. Though the colours and textures for which fats are responsible are important to flavour it, maybe that the role fat has is more than only a supporting actor – until today scientists thought fat was, as they once thought of umami, a taste enhancer. But for the past few years many are seeking the receptor that will prove the not so marginal theory that fat, is in fact our sixth taste.
So whether if on behalf of our on-growing legitimacy of pleasure, power or both, embracing fat should most definitely be part of the way we approach food in our new stream feminism. But there is a tremendous difference between the claim of eating fat and being fat as a virtue, and the latter seems more like a pseudo feminist act that allows us to maintain, rather than evoke, the ignorant idea that the fat on our plate and that to our body are as one.
Our relationship with the stuff has been tampered for decades by pressing the most sensitive buttons of health, self esteem and social prestige and acceptance only to put people – women in particular – in a position of fear and submission. But the tipping point in the anti fat doctrine, blessed be if it is to happen, should be pointed in a more accurate direction. It’s been said that if you educate a man, you educate one man, but if you educate a woman, you educate a generation. So after dipping our toes in both extremes, let us find the middle with fat. Obviously, we have enough good reasons to do so.