Fat is a macronutrient, not a sin: Act Three


52 Acts of Political Correctness: Act Three

[original post here, 52something meme here]

Yesterday the lad came home from seeing the Wizard of Oz show, and started excitedly telling me about the characters.

“And the Tin Man”, he said with a huge grin (it’s his favourite character), “Was all covered in silver! And he had this thing on his neck! And he had an axe! And he was really big and fat!”

“You liked the Tin Man?”, I echoed.


I feel like I’ve had a teeny success. Because I’ve been trying to repurpose “fat”. The word seems to be met by many with a shocked silence or gasp – as though it’s the worst possible insult in the word. It’s taboo. It’s an accusation, a moral judgement.

But it’s not.

Fat is a descriptor or a nutrient, and it’s value-neutral. It’s not a disease, and it’s not a poison. For every negative connotation of greed and greasiness, there is a positive one. Bountiful. Ample. Abundant. The richness of the marrow. The fat of the land. (This has been discussed as an ongoing theme at Shapely Prose.)

I figure the lad is going to get plenty negative images of fat and far too much encouragement to revile fat people, so I’ve been trying to provide some offset.

When we read the Very Hungry Caterpillar, just before his metamorphosis: “Now he wasn’t hungry any more — and he wasn’t a little caterpillar any more. He was a big, fat, beauuuuutiful caterpillar!” The Tin Man is lovely and friendly and fat. And so on.

School curriculum chatter is full of “Red light – yellow light – green light” food labels, lunchbox bannings, mandatory weigh-ins, and discussions of how “bad food makes you fat” and OMG fat is bad and you will be ugly and drop dead. (This doesn’t seem to be a big feature of his current class, which is great.) So at home, as part of talking about science and biology and life in general, we talk about food in a different context.

I try to describe food options in terms of freshness and colour and origin and diversity and nutrients, not in terms of good and bad, allowed and forbidden, sinful and virtuous. Tomatoes and oranges contain vitamin C which your body needs to fight germs and heal injuries; chickpeas and kangaroo contain protein and iron which helps your muscles grow and which you need for your red blood cells to carry oxygen; blueberries and chocolate contain antioxidants which can keep your body healthy; ice cream and baked beans contain calcium which is in your bones and teeth; pasta and potatoes have carbohydrate which gives you energy; olives and eggs have fats that give energy and are good for your blood vessels and heart.

Yes, “fats” and “good for you” in the same sentence. I said it.

I remark on a colourful meal in terms of how pretty and appetising it looks. The corn we grew in our yard and picked today tastes fresh and crisp and delicious, and the carbohydrates in it were manufactured by the plants from sunlight and air, and isn’t that cool? We are lucky to have such good food available to us, to be able to buy it or grow it. Lollies taste yummy, but can feed bacteria on teeth, so we brush after eating them. You eat your apple before your square of chocolate, because eating it the other way round will make the apple taste sour in your mouth. Family dinner is a time for gathering, talking about our day, and telling stories.

It’s all part of looking at food in a way that appreciates food for taste and fuel-content and social value, and at your body for what it can do and how it feels. Not a mindset of food as enemy, as sin, as sparking a constant internal commentary of whether or not you are living up to an arbitrary standard of behaviour.

Categories: education, Life

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7 replies

  1. Reminds me of a conversation some of my friends had once.
    Friend 1: “She’s so fat and fabulous.” (Refering to Sara Ramirez from Grey’s Anatomy.
    Friend 2: “Hey, she’s not fat, she’s beautiful!”
    Friend 3: “She can be beautiful and fat.”
    Friend 4: “Yeah, I’m fat and I’m beautiful.”

  2. and OMG fat is bad and you will be ugly and drop dead

    I think that’s the best one-line summary of the Obesity Panic I’ve ever read.

  3. How about “fat is an essential nutrient, without which we die”?
    I worked with a woman who’s sister decided to eliminate fat from her diet (and this was 12 years ago!). Consequence, skin flaking and compromised immune system.
    Phobias are not healthy no matter what they relate to.

  4. I’m surprised I’ve only just realised the other really big plus of this approach to food education. Saying these things over and over to the lad also means I’m repeating them to myself.

  5. and OMG fat is bad and you will be ugly and drop dead

    I agree with tigtog; this is pretty much the best summary of the Obesity “Crisis” ever.
    annahams last blog post..feminism: ur doin it wrong

  6. How about “fat is tasty”?
    Butter, nut oils, olive oil, duck fat, lamb fat, ghee, dripping – all delicious.


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