CELEBRATING “FAT,” A NEW BOOK BY JENNIFER MCLAGAN

Jennifer McLagan, winner of the prestigious James Beard Cookbook Award for Bones in 2006, has taken a courageous stand in her latest book titled Fat. My first exposure to Jennifer was at the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference in Seattle where she was also nominated for an award. I attended a workshop on food photography and at the awards ceremony on the closing day, found myself seated next to one of the presenters from the class. He had warned against using images with unpleasant connotations and bones were specifically cited as an example of things to be avoided. I couldn’t resist nudging him to point out the picture of the cover of Jennifer’s book adorned with a gorgeous plate of marrowbones featured in the program. Jennifer McLagan breaks the rules, and she does it beautifully.

The last IACP newsletter announced that Jennifer’s new book, Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes, was due out this month. I fired off an e-mail to her to find out when it would be out (Sept 1) and asked for a picture to post on my blog. She sent me a pdf but warned that she uses sugar and carbs in some of her recipes, which I already knew from looking at her blog and reading the information on her Amazon page. Never mind; she champions the healthful qualities of fat, and I’m convinced that if we had never abandoned good, natural fat, we in the US could probably still eat sugar too. (Jennifer grew up in Australia and now lives in Toronto.)

She said, “It took a long time for publishers to talk to me.” (And she’s an award-winning author!) “The opening chapter is all about the importance of animal fat in our diet and why in the last 30 years we have been (wrongly) convinced to cut it out….It gives us energy. It boosts the immune system and some fats have antimicrobial properties. Others can lower bad cholesterol. There are vitamins that are only fat-soluble. Your brain is mainly made of fat and cholesterol, as are the membranes of your cells. It helps you digest protein, which is why you should eat chicken with crispy skin or well-marbled steak.” She points out that we have been eating animal fats for thousands and thousands of years. If it had been that bad for us we probably would not be here.

Fat includes recipes such as Roasted Pork Belly with Fennel and Rosemary, Duck Confit, Carnitas, and Butter-Poached Scallops. Stories, lore, quotations, and tips about fat’s place in culinary history and traditional cultures round out what is described as a “plump, juicy, and satisfying read for food lovers.” It contains 35 color pictures, as of course it would, seeing as how the author is herself a professional food stylist.

It’s still a hard sell. She proposed a seminar on animal fats for the 2009 IACP conference, but she says, “surprise, surprise, they didn’t go for it.” Later this month, the venerable CIA (Culinary Institute of America), one of the most respected organizations in the food world, and The Harvard Medical School are jointly sponsoring a conference called “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives.” Both promote a plant-based diet. Harvard’s “Eat, Drink and Weigh Less Food Pyramid” features a base of “daily exercise and weight awareness” followed by lots of fruits and vegetables, plant oils and whole grains. Nuts, tofu, legumes, fish, seafood, poultry, and eggs are next, then dairy foods, vitamins, and red wine. At the tippy-top are lean red meats, bread, white flour, desserts, and soft drinks. Apparently, both the culinary and the medical establishments have endorsed Michael Pollan’s now famous conclusion from In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Obviously, as Jennifer told me, “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us.” True, but we are making progress, and emerging science supports those of us who embrace butter, lard, duck fat, bacon, marrowbones, and tallow for the life enhancing substances that they are. Hopefully, I won’t be the lone pariah at the next IACP convention.

(Here’s my rewrite of Michael Pollan’s seven-word slogan: Eat Fat. All you want. Stay healthy.)
Fat can be ordered from Amazon Here: http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Appreciation-Misunderstood-Ingredient-Recipes/dp/0771055773/ref=sr_1_2/002-2385511-2323269?ie=UTF8&s=

Jennifer’s blog: http://jennifermclagan.blogspot.com/

© 2008, Judy Barnes Baker

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