“The hysterical crusade against fat has become a veritable witch hunt. With New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s ban on supersize sodas (now temporarily thwarted) and the first lady’s campaign to push leaves and twigs (i.e., salad) on reluctant school children—all in the name of stamping out obesity—it is fat-shaming time in America. Yes, there are countertrends, like the pro-fat TV shows of Paula Deen and Guy Fieri. But in the culture at large, eating that kind of fat has become a class-based badge of shame: redneck food (which I say as someone who likes rednecks and redneck food). It isn’t food for someone who drives a Prius to Pilates class…
But there’s another world of fatty foods, a world beyond bacon and barbecue—not the froufrou fatty foods of foodies either, but basic, earthy, luxuriant fatty foods like roast goose, split-shank beef marrow and clotted cream. In the escalating culture war over fat, which has clothed itself in sanctity as an obesity-prevention crusade, most of these foods have somehow been left out. This makes it too easy to conflate eating fatty food with eating industrial, oil-fried junk food or even with being or becoming a fat person.”
This recent article from the Wall Street Journal opens with a seeming awareness of the ways in which class identities are inscribed on our food choices, noting the fact that “fatty” foods (and obesity) are often aligned with lower class status. It’s true, I think, that the effort to curb obesity and promote healthier diets for Americans has often come with some not-so-coded messages about class progress.
Though I’m glad that Ron Rosenbaum is drawing attention to this issue, the next turn that he takes is shocking. He’s asking that we please not lump the kinds of “luxurious” fats that congeal in the arteries of the culturally and financially elite in with the greasy, cheap oils that drip from the fingers of the great unwashed. Perhaps I overstate. But, the language in this piece is strongly coded. Rosenbaum takes care to differentiate the kinds of fats he’s championing from both the more “nouveau,” trendy fats of the “foodie” set and from the ubiquitous “redneck” fats that he sees being condemned in the news media, choosing food examples that emphasize tradition (roast goose), high culture (clotted cream), and the kind of claims to simplicity that often mark an assertion of “naturalness.”
I don’t think I’d argue with the basic content of Rosenbaum’s argument. I do think that the way we talk about fat (and all food groups) in this country needs to be more nuanced. The demonization of any macronutrient is foolhardy and the way that class has been used as a nutritional goad is shameful. But I worry that Rosenbaum isn’t really helping matters, he’s just drawing more dividing lines.
(Of course, I think it’s important to know who your author is and I remembered reading another food-related article penned by our dear Rosenbaum. This Slate article on “The Unbearable Whiteness of White-Meat” is a thoughtful, incisive look into the racialized histories of the way we consume white and dark meat. It’s certainly not perfect– note the almost compulsive denigration/mockery of the hippie eater– but it’s a good read, nonetheless.)