Dave Barry

Classic '96: Big fat coverup


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, November 3, 1996.

Recently, a reader named Jim Cornell sent me a postcard with a picture of insects on it, posing an interesting question.

(No, the insects were not posing a question. As far as I know.)

Jim stated that he, like every other American above the age of 4, is on a low-fat diet, and he noted that we have become basically a nonfat nation. This is true; virtually all edible substances, and many automotive products, are now marketed as being ``low-fat'' or ``fat-free.'' Americans are obsessed with fat content. 

DOCTOR: Mrs. Stoatbonker, you will die within hours unless you take this antibiotic.

PATIENT: Is it fat-free?

DOCTOR: I don't know.

PATIENT: I'll just have a Diet Pepsi.

So anyway, Jim, after noting that ``millions of pounds of formerly fat-rich food is now de-fatted,'' asks: ``What are they doing with all that fat?''

Jim, that is an excellent question, and I intend to answer it just as soon as I have written enough words to make a column. (Don't you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! And they don't even have to be true! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don't even have to be true!)

First, however, we need to consider exactly what ``fat'' is. Just off the top of my head, without glancing at a dictionary, I would define fat as ``any of various mixtures of solid or semisolid triglycerides found in adipose animal tissue or in the seeds of plants.'' A ``triglyceride,'' as I vaguely recall from my high-school years, is ``any of a group of esters, CH2(OOCR1)CH(OOCR2)CH2(OOCR3), derived from glycerol and three fatty acid radicals.''

But what does this mean? One thing it means, of course, is that ``Three Fatty Acid Radicals'' would be an excellent name for a rock band. But it also means that fat is some kind of chemical item that nature puts inside certain plants and animals to make them taste better. A good rule of thumb is: The more fat something contains, the better it tastes. This is why we eat hamburgers, but we do not eat ants. Ants have a very low fat content, so nobody eats them except unfortunate animals such as birds, who, because of a design flaw, cannot use drive-thru windows. Human beings, on the other hand, enjoy hamburgers, because they (the hamburgers) come from cows, which are notoriously fat. You will never see a cow voluntarily going anywhere near an Abdominizer.

Of course there have been efforts to make low-fat ``hamburgers.'' In researching this column, I purchased a product called ``Harvest Burgers,'' which are ``All Vegetable Protein Patties'' manufactured by the Green Giant Corp. Upon examining the package, the first thing I noticed was that the Jolly Green Giant has apparently had plastic surgery. He no longer looks like the ``Ho! Ho! Ho!'' guy; he now looks like Paul McCartney on steroids. Check it out.

The second thing I noticed is that the key ingredient in Harvest Burgers is ``soy.'' This ingredient is found in many low-fat foods, and I think it's time that the Food and Drug Administration told us just what the hell it is. A plant? A mineral? An animal? Are there enormous soy ranches in Nebraska, with vast herds of soys bleating and suckling their young? As a consumer, I'd like some answers. I don't want to discover years from now that ``soy'' is an Oriental word meaning ``compressed ant parts.''

This is not intended as a criticism of the ``Harvest Burger,'' which is a well-constructed, extremely cylindrical frozen unit of brown foodlike substance. The package states that it contains ``83 percent less fat than ground beef''; I believe this, because it also tastes exactly 83 percent less good than ground beef. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it for anybody who needs more ``soy'' or a backup hockey puck.

Oh, sure, there will be people who will claim that soy patties taste ``almost as good'' as real hamburgers. These are the same people who have convinced themselves that rice cakes taste ``almost as good'' as potato chips, when in fact eating rice cakes is like chewing on a foam coffee cup, only less filling. You could fill a container with roofing shingles and put it in the supermarket with a sign that said ``ZERO-FAT ROOFING SHINGLES,'' and these people would buy it and convince themselves it tasted ``almost as good'' as French toast.

Yes, we have become a low-fat society, which brings us back to the question posed by Jim Cornell: What's being done with all the fat? Jim offers this theory: ``I suspect that they're dumping it in some small town in Texas or Mexico.''

No way, Jim. Our government would never allow a major fat-dumping facility in the same region where we're storing the dead UFO aliens. No, the truth is that the fat is being loaded into giant tanker trucks, transported by night, and pumped into: My thighs. There was no choice: Marlon Brando was already full. But I'm happy to do my part for a leaner America, so don't bother to thank me. Are you going to finish those fries?

POSTSCRIPT -- After I wrote this column, my editor, Tom Shroder, sent me a note saying he thinks he read somewhere that ants DO contain fat. I think he's wrong, but since we're both professional journalists, neither of us will look it up. I will say this: If ants DO contain fat, it's only a matter of time before somebody comes out with low-fat ants.