In Saturday’s WSJ, there was an article debunking the assumption that fat is implicated in heart disease:
“The fact is, there has never been solid evidence for the idea that these fats cause disease. We only believe this to be the case because nutrition policy has been derailed over the past half-century by a mixture of personal ambition, bad science, politics and bias.”
The article goes on to trace our belief in fat as deleterious to health to one man, Ancel Benjamin Keys, who forged a career based on his extremely flawed research delineating fat as a culprit in heart disease. In fact, the shift away from meat and animal fat and to starchy carbs and sugar has been implicated in the current obesity and diabetes crisis. You can read the whole article here, and another supporting article here.
Which brings me to today’s poem, written a dozen years ago or so about my own relationship to fat–I think it was the first ode I’d ever written, inspired, of course, by Neruda’s Odes to Common Things:
In Praise of Fat
I never gave up butter, its golden taste
on the tongue as it soaks into toast,
softening and gilding each rough pocket
of grain, or graces the potato, turning that peasant
starch into a hymn of steamy flavor.
And the tomato cream sauce on the pasta,
the puff of pastry crumbing against the teeth,
the nuts and butter and sugar of Christmas.
The flavor is in the fat as the yolk is in the egg.
As for my own curves, plump palmfuls
of padding at midriff and belly,
surely I can learn to think of them
fondly. No discipline is likely
to make them diminish, because
even when they said butter
was bad for me and tried to foist
that oily, ersatz cube of colored
shortening onto my table, I resisted.
It’s worth it, to drench my tongue
in the churned cream—
mouth-watering, sizzling, delectable fat.
When I was at a writing workshop in Spoleto, Italy, we stayed at a convent and ate rather uninspired meals together at a restaurant in town. At the same convent, a cooking course was in progress. One night I read the assembled cooks this poem, and as a result was invited to their final dinner. It was delicious, and one of the best rewards for a poem I ever got.