Is fat an F word?

We’re unfair to fat. Recently I was reading about a new only-slightly invasive technique for ridding the body of fatty deposits that stop one being attractive to other people – or so we’re told – and I was wondering how far I’d have to be pushed before I resorted to such measures. There’s a lot of pressure on me. After climate change, terrorism and the price of fuel, it seems that that the biggest threat to western civilisation today is obesity and, if your body mass index is not in the correct part of the graph, you’re a menace to society. And as the old joke goes, according to that measure, I’m five inches too short.

Obviously, carrying too much weight makes the heart work harder, puts pressure on the joints and prevents one from becoming a catwalk model. But being ugly doesn’t help a modelling career either and the Government hasn’t started a campaign to rid the country of people with challenging looks. Yet.

Obesity is the politically correct alternative for the word “fat”. But it’s not as useful. If one is obese, one is actually fat. That’s fat as an adjective. If one has too much body about one, it’s probably the result of an excess of fat. That’s fat as a noun. You can’t do that with the word obese. So that makes “fat” at least twice as good as the word “obese”.

And it gets better because “fat” can be such a useful word. We live off the fat of the land. In many countries, being fat is an indicator of you being able to afford more food than your neighbour. And when you really delve into it, you begin to realise that the F word is treated extremely unfairly.

First, when it comes to food, we really can’t do without it. For instance, it’s just about impossible to fry without it and frying’s definitely a good thing. Also, many flavour-bearing molecules are not soluble in water but are in fat and, if you remove the fat, the now-dry food tastes less satisfying; something reinforced by the fact that fat slows down the time the flavours travel over the tongue making the tasty stuff linger longer. Hence, that’s why only one low-fat yoghurt will never do.

To give an example, lamb is higher in fat than, say, beef. And tests have shown that if you remove every last bit of fat from meat, it’s difficult to tell the difference between lamb and beef in a blind tasting.

Further facts in support of fat are that the evidence of a reasonable amount of subcutaneous fat on meat demonstrates that the animal was in a healthy state just before giving up its life in order to enhance ours; surely an important factor in these slightly more enlightened times. Also, that same fat allows meat to be properly hung by protecting against external bacteria during the process.

We’re not talking about eating great slabs of lard here; just enough fat in our food to promote flavours and keep meat moist and lubricated while cooking. So let’s temper the argument, promoted far too often, that fat is at the root of all our health problems. Obviously it’s a matter of balance and common sense – which takes education. But without fat our food would be so much less interesting and we’d end up substituting it for that other evil – sugar.

So let’s hear it for fat and remember that when, years ago, my mother used to call me Fathead, perhaps she meant it as a compliment.


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