Jennifer McLagan is on a mission: to dispel the myth that fat is a “greasy killer.” Or, as she writes in her new book, “Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes”: “Human nutrition is complex, and no two bodies function the same way, but for the majority of us, eating animal fat is not the death sentence we have been led to believe.”
The book tackles the controversies that have long been swirling around fat, from the fact that doctors praised the wonders of a low-fat diet only to watch as that wisdom was contradicted by a major 2006 study to the more recent study that indicated there may not, after all, be a direct link between obesity and heart attacks. On the other end of the spectrum, of course, there is Dr. Atkins and his contrarian high-fat-diet approach to getting healthy.
But McLagan’s book is about more than mere science. It is divided into sections based on types of fat: butter, pork fat, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fats. Since many of these fats (except butter) are not easily available commercially, McLagan teaches the reader how to render each one specifically. A skilled writer, McLagan presents her case for the armchair reader at the same time she offers enticing recipes for the seasoned cook: bacon baklava, marrow rice pudding, and lamb fat and spinach chapati.
“Fat” is an unapologetic celebration of its title ingredient and a compelling argument that explains not only why fat is a fundamental flavor but also fundamental to our health.
Salon interviewed Jennifer McLagan, who lives in Toronto.
There has been a huge movement against the consumption of fatty foods over the past 30 years or so. So why is obesity such a challenge in America today?
Eating less animal fat hasn’t made us healthier or thinner. We have reduced the amount of animal fat we eat, but statistics show the total amount of fat in our diet has increased. Vegetable fats have replaced animal fats, which has resulted in a huge increase in polyunsaturated fat in our diet, which has resulted in a huge increase in polyunsaturated fat in our diet (which can depress your immune system). We’ve also added man-made trans fats to the mix, which everyone now agrees are not good for us.
It’s difficult to blame obesity on one thing. But it is definitely not consumption of animal fats. I think there are many causes — the way we eat, alone, in the car, walking down the street, the constant snacking. Increased consumption of low-fat, fat-free “foods” results in us eating more sugars and carbohydrates. These products don’t satisfy our hunger and leave us wanting to eat more. Eating good animal fat does, so you eat less.
It’s also how we relate to our food. We consume large portions of prepared foods, huge portions. Food is relatively cheap: We spend less than 10 percent of our income on it. Consequently, we don’t value it. Many see it simply as fuel or a medicine, not a pleasure. Because people have become so disconnected from their food, they fear it and continually break it down into good and bad elements.
There’s also a widespread myth that making food from scratch takes too much time and is expensive. It may not always be quicker, but it is better for you and cheaper when all the costs are considered.
If we cooked our food, sat down at a table with friends and family and enjoyed eating it, we would be healthier, happier and probably thinner.