It was one of those great TV moments. I was watching “The Big Bang Theory.” (If you don’t watch it you are missing the funniest half-hour on
television.) Sheldon Cooper, the socially retarded theoretical physicist, had withdrawn from his friends and would not
come out of his room. Sheldon has issues. His roommate did what had to be done – he called Sheldon’s mother. Mrs. Cooper is one of his issues. She arrived all the way from Texas, saw the problem, and to lure Sheldon out, she made him his favorite
food. It worked. Penny, the cute girl from across the hall, was amazed. “It’s all in the secret ingredient,” Mrs. Cooper said. “Mother’s love?” Penny asked. “Lard,” she replied. Lard. I grew up with lard. My grandmother bought it in buckets and fried everything fryable in it – from
chicken to peach pies. When we cleaned out her kitchen after she died, the wall behind her stove was so caked with splattered lard that we had to scrape it off with a spatula.
Her daughter, my mother, followed in her footsteps, and during my childhood, lard was a staple in our house.
Then it disappeared, replaced by vegetable shortening, which was more convenient and was supposed to be healthier – less saturated fat or something like that.
I am not sure how much attention Mama paid to the health claims; because of the prevalence of pork in her cooking and her habit of saving the drippings for future flavoring, our family continued to get our fair share of pig fat. And chicken fat and beef fat, and so on and so on.
My father’s argument in favor of animal fat was simple and difficult to refute – “it tastes good.” He said the same thing about butter. When Mama started using a spread that supposedly you could not believe wasn’t butter, Daddy let her know right off that he could believe it. His opinion notwithstanding, she continued to buy it because she liked the reusable containers (and, I suspect, just to show him she could). However, she often put both butter and what you couldn’t believe wasn’t butter on the table at the same time, and when she did, you know where his knife went.
So Daddy would have taken particular delight in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times that announced to the world that “Butter is Back” – though I imagine Daddy would have wondered where it had gone to come back from.
According to the article, a “meta-analysis” published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that there was “just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.” Not only that, there is some evidence to indicate that too little saturated fat might hurt you.
Then a few weeks later an article in the Washington Post announced that “lard may not be as bad for your health as the fat’s detractors say.”
Now without getting into all the scientific debate over the relative benefits and dangers of polyunsaturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats, trans fats, and schmaltz, let me simply say that together these two articles make a good case for the way Grandma, Mama, and most of the cooks of their generation fed their men.
The articles also confirm the old adage that “fat is flavor,” while giving us reason to ignore the advice of health food fanatics who tell us “if it tastes good, spit it out.”
Before you get all excited and rush out to eat something you have been denying yourself, a word of caution. Beware of “fake foods” – hyperprocessed junk full of all sorts of chemicals. And watch out for foods that the food industry advertises as low-fat or fat-free. In their quest to create a product that can fool you into believing it is what it ain’t, companies include ingredients that read like a chemist’s shopping list.
So how about a new adage – “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”
Now I am not on the side of those who advocate avoiding any food that didn’t exist 100 years ago. However, just for the fun of it, take a look in your fridge and pantry and count the things that your Mamaw would have had in hers.
Short list I bet. But I digress. My point is not what you shouldn’t eat, but what you can – and in some cases should.
You can, and in some cases should, eat butter and lard.
Grandma lived into her 90s. Daddy made it to 93. Mama hung up her apron at 98. Heart disease took my Grandfather away when he was barely 60.
Did the grease get him? Maybe, but it also helped him enjoy the time he had. There is that. Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at JSU. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.