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Fat chance! Why I’m not giving up bacon

Every time I fill my kitchen with the racy aroma of sizzling Berkshire bacon, so generously marbled that my rashers crisp in a splattering pool of golden fat, I think wistfully to myself, “Will no one ever tell me that this wonderful stuff is good for me?” After all, red wine and chocolate have now been deemed more than okay—health-enhancing, even—by a battery of white-coated experts. But animal fat? French fries cooked to perfection in lard, herb butter melting onto a juicy steak? Will I wait forever to see such pleasures rescued from the dietary danger zone?

FatNow along comes chef and food writer Jennifer McLagan, a hedonist with a mission, urging us all to relax and enjoy. In her new book Fat: an Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes, McLagan mounts a spirited attack on the cardiological correctness that has reduced so many dinners (including quite a few from my kitchen) to a skinless chicken breast, a side of lemon-dressed broccoli and a mound of brown rice. She writes, “There is something fundamentally wrong when, in a society of plenty, we fear what is on our plate, seeing our food as a poison (or, alternatively, as a medicine).” No fat, no flavour, she says. What’s more, we’re not getting any thinner as we ditch animal fats in the name of health. We’re eating more trans fats—the most dangerous kind, with no redeeming qualities—and packing on the pounds.

Fat and I have a conflicted history. My mother baked her incomparable pies with the now-verboten Crisco (a trans fat, but oh, the flaky pastry it produced). I always came back seconds. In those days, the 50s and 60s, we blithely thought of Crisco as a purer proposition than lard, just because it had no bestial origins.

By the mid-80s, when fats of all kinds were falling from favour, I acquired a lavish collection of cookbooks filled with “light” recipes. I replaced sour cream with low-fat yogurt and cooked my chicken cutlets in the merest dab of olive oil. I took great pride in the weeks that weeks it took me to finish a stick of butter. Who was I kidding? “Light” was code for “spartan.” Meanwhile pigs and cattle were being bred so lean, you’d think they were training for a marathon. My stewing beef shriveled in its pricey bath of herb-spiked wine; my pork shops had to be sawed into submission.

Trust the Europeans to dodge this sort of nonsense. At my first Tuscan trattoria, I shuddered when a waiter brought me my first slab of pork roast, which visibly gleamed with fat. One bite convinced me that the Tuscans have the right idea. And by the way, they’re a trimmer lot than North Americans—no doughnuts in the staff room or brimming TV-side bowls of chips for them.

In the Dordogne, home of the richest food in France, there was scarcely a tubby person to be seen. Yet every dish comes garnished with chunks of bacon or a velvety slice of local foie gras–if not both at once. (I should tell you that a Dordogne serving of foie gras would serve the whole table back home.)  People know their priorities in the Dordogne. Drive down any country road, and you’ll be hard pressed to find milk for sale. But every driveway sports a sign for homemade foie gras.

If Jennifer McLagan has her way, we’ll start eating more like Europeans. Turning the pages of her book, I get hungry. But there’s a catch. To cook these recipes, I’d need a sort of fat wardrobe—a stash of little jars filled with tasty drippings of this and that. As a cook, I’m the basic black type. Frankly, I don’t have the time or the patience. I’d much rather just go to McLagan’s house for dinner.

Or yours, if you plan on serving BLTs with bacon mayonnaise. A cardiologist would surely cringe, no matter what McLagan says. So, is bacon really good for me? Well, look at it this way. I don’t eat it daily, and it’s good for my soul. That’s what matters.


Posted by Rona

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