John Kemp’s Kitchen: In Praise of Fat
Since about the mid-70s, we as a society have become increasingly wary of the effect that our diets have on our health and potential for disease. Some of the many culprits include cholesterol, sodium, various types of sugar, preservatives, colourings, and even flavourings. However, no one food component has been given as much heat by the public eye as fat.
It seems nowadays that whether you’re buying milk, cheese, chicken, or really anything that could possibly be associated with fat, the words “lean” and “low fat” are plastered on them as selling points. We avoid high-fat milk and eating too much sour cream, fried foods are a sin in-and-of themselves and don’t even get me started on butter. Fat, in our North American diets, has become enemy number one.
Now I’m no dietician, but when we get to the point where we need to process and remove things from our foods so far as to eliminate entire groups of macronutrients, I start to take issue.
There are many articles that will tackle this same issue, often stressing the importance of fat in a balanced diet and discussing its benefits in cell growth and insulation. This, however, is not one of those articles. Although I do agree that we physiologically need fat in our diets, I think there’s something to be said for needing it psychologically as well.
What I mean by that is that I think, above all else, that food should be enjoyable.
In our busy modern lives, the role that nourishment plays has changed significantly from what it was even as little as 20 years ago. The formal family dinner of the Leave It to Beaver days is long past, and we now often eat on-the-go, dedicating relatively little cognitive effort to actually appreciating what we’re eating. Food has become, in many respects, a necessity rather than an indulgence. This, compounded by our collective contempt for fat, salt, sugar, and all the other components that make food enjoyable, makes for a rather dismal environment for food in our lives.
The larger problem with this is that it doesn’t only devalue food, it makes it the enemy. We become leery about each bite we take and each dish we order for fear that we might gain a few too many pounds or that we’re cheating on our diets by celebrating “cheat day” 48 hours too early. We start thinking of certain foods as “sinful” and ultimately associate the enjoyment of fatty foods with misbehaviour and negativity. This is not a healthy relationship to have with the very thing we need to live.
Instead, we should take a kinder, gentler, more balanced approach to fat and the foods that contain it. Perhaps rather than having five slices of ultra-low-fat-so-light-it-floats-off-the-plate cheese, one enjoys a couple slices of a lovely smoked gouda. Or maybe it’s thoroughly enjoying the big roast dinner on a Sunday night and having a lighter but equally as enjoyable lunch the next day. Either way, the idea in all of this is that we simply need to develop a relationship with fat and with food of all shapes and sizes more generally that emphasizes not substitutions and compromises, but balance, moderation, and enjoyment. After all, the great Julia Child did always say, “The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.” If that’s not wisdom, I don’t know what is.