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Fat goes free after serving 50 years

Dan Needles is the author of “Wingfield Farm” stage plays. His column is a monthly feature in Country Guide

Just back from England, where I have learned that yet another one of our more cherished diet myths has been exploded by scientific study. Apparently, it is now safe to eat lard again.

I have always felt like the last person in the Western world who is keeping a couple of pigs in the back yard. But I found myself sitting at a dinner party in the Devon countryside with three other couples and discovered that each one of them was fattening a pig for the freezer. We were dining on a delicious roast of sow belly from a free-range pig raised by the hostess and the guests were all enthusing about the recent rehabilitation of lard.

Remember lard? That was the stuff that used to come in plastic tubs from the packing house and it always drifted to the bottom of the freezer where it sat for two years, unless Grandma came to visit and wanted to make her patented oatmeal raisin cookies. Mother would shake her head and say, “Just this once,” and thaw out a few spoonfuls for her. But, eventually, the tubs went off to the dump because we all knew that the stuff was a dangerously unhealthy food.

Almost a century after the invention of Crisco, and 50 years after the American Heart Association started warning us about the dangers of high cholesterol and saturated fats, the chief justices of the food science industry have finally admitted that lard has been given a bum rap. Not only does it not cause heart disease, they say it actually contains more of the good fats than any of the hydrogenated vegetable oils that health experts have been urging us to switch to for the past 30 years.

So now lard is back out on the street blinking in the sunshine along with other recently rehabilitated “criminals” of the Canadian breakfast table: butter, eggs and bacon. My hosts told me that bacon from a free-range pig fed a ration with crushed flaxseed actually has the same Omega-3 properties as a serving of Pacific salmon. Who knew?

I suppose this explains why my neighbour, the old cattleman Owly Drysdale, is still stumping around on Hall’s Hill after pouring liquid lard on his bacon and eggs and toast every morning for the last 90 years. It reminds me of the scene from the Woody Allen film “Sleeper” where he wakes up in the future and his doctors are very amused to find that he orders wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk for breakfast. The older doctor remembers, “Ah yes. Those are the charmed substances that many years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.” Now, of course, his doctors know better and tell him to eat steaks, deep-fat fried foods and cream pies. My free-range freezer pigs are out in the barnyard now, although they don’t stray too far into the pasture since the mercury has shrivelled to a dot at the bottom of the glass. Morgan and Stanley are thriving on a diet of very expensive hog grower laced with flaxseed and seaweed meal, thanks to the advice of my English friends. I am also fattening two Shorthorn steers I call the Lehman Bros., because they are now hopelessly over-extended and not eligible for any sort of federal assistance. If you think gas prices were slow to follow the price of a barrel of crude back down to earth, just check out the bag prices for hog grower and cattle feed.

The trouble is that food science is meeting food politics coming the other way. I could live with the idiotic cost of growing my own meat for the table, if my children would just eat it gratefully. But they don’t. They have all become shrill vegetarians, save one. Thankfully, my dear Fruit Loop, at age 11, still troops through the snow to the barn with me and tucks into her sausages and eggs with me on Sunday mornings. The rest of them do everything but throw paint on my overalls.

“It’s just what they hear at school, dear” says my wife patting my hand sympathetically. “But never mind. They all like my oatmeal raisin cookies. I just won’t tell any of them that I’ve started making them with lard again.”



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