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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Return to Fat

When I was a little kid, no one bothered to tell me that I was supposed to trim the fat off of a piece of meat. They just forgot to tell me I guess. So I ate it. Oh yes. I ate it. And ate it. I started cutting it off just so I could save the best for last. Sometimes my grandfather would cut the fat off of a piece of meat before cooking - and then he crisped it up in a pan and fed it to me. Fat was heaven.

Once I reached a certain age though, my family became a bit concerned about my fat habit. Maybe it's because cholesterol and it's effects on the circulatory system were becoming front and center in health-related news. Maybe it was because of my grandmother's high blood pressure. Maybe it was because I was really starting to gain weight. Who knows? All I know was I started getting lectures about how bad fat was for me and I was instructed to cut it off and throw it away. I wasn't even supposed to have chicken skin anymore!

I convinced myself I didn't like it. I told myself fatty meat=gross. I convinced myself that greasy=inedible. I tried to convince myself. I really did. I stuck to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, lean burgers, and pork tenderloins. I knew it was better for me, but something was missing. Why, for example, did I always order duck in restaurants?

Somewhere out there, little voices here and there agreed with me. I remember my sophomore year of high school my Italian class had a field trip to the San Gennaro Festival in NYC. My biology teacher told all of the students in his class that were going to bring him back a zeppole and make sure it was nice and greasy. Then he said, "If grease didn't taste good, we'd all be a lot better off." Wow. Someone out there, someone who had a good idea of how the human body worked and what to feed it, actually admitted that while grease is bad for us, it's still tasty. It made me think about how food is perceived. Why can't we automatically be repulsed by things that are bad for us? Also, why can't we admit that things that are bad for us taste good?

A few years later the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote scathing reports about Mexican and Chinese food (as if we didn't know they were bad for us). Columnist Dave Barry wrote extensively on this. Of course we know that these foods are bad for us. What CSPI didn't realize, according to Barry is that, "We like fat. Fat tastes good to most human beings."

I wrote a blog a few months ago about my love of roast chicken and how I love the idea of ripping one apart, taking all the fatty bits off the bottom as I saw Nigella Lawson do on TV once. Again, my love for barbaric eating and ripping into every single part bit of meat, fat-covered or not, was confirmed as not only normal, but a sensual, epicurean delight. Who would call Nigella Lawson a pig?

Today is the day I found the ultimate confirmation that people really don't want to eat dry, lowfat meats when I read this article. It seems the best restaurants are catching on to what people really want. Imagine tearing into a whole pig or eating fried pork belly bites with watermelon as a "salad". This is the kind of food I can sink my teeth into. This is the kind of food I dreamed about as a child. It's what I have wished I could admit to liking (and now, I suppose I can). I am taking notes on the restaurants listed in this article in hopes of trying them one day. I've made attempts to eat at Babbo (reservations are very had to get unfortunately), but maybe I'll get to eat at some of the others some day. It's interesting that Mario Batali once had to refer to his pork fat bits as "white prosciutto" at one point, but now "lard' is no longer a dirty word. Maybe Emeril Lagasse helped the movement along when he declared, "Pork fat rules." There is a reason why bacon tastes so good.

A few years ago I was at a barbecue with Kevin where some big, succulent ribs were served. I tore into them happily. Later on that night he commented, "You were like a savage with those ribs." I was so embarassed that it took a couple of years before I could bring myself to eat ribs in front of him again. Now if he were to call me a savage, I would say, "So what?" I'll bet I was having a much better time with those ribs than my non-pork-eating husband, and those like him, will ever have eating dry chicken breasts and grilled veggie kabobs (or even worse a veggie burger). To be savage is to be human. It is to be fully alive. It is the root of our primal, physical desires, and the ultimate expression of lusty sensuality. Tear into the flesh and savor the silky goodness. Besides, the more we forbid fat, the more we want it. Eat it, embrace it. Don't deny yourself pleasure because people tell you that you shouldn't want it.

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