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Get Thee Behind Me, Fat

By November 15, 2007 No Comments

“Thou shalt place outside thy door a vat of fat. And this shalt be a sign unto the angel of heart disease to pass over thy house. Purge thy dwelling of trans and saturated fats (polyunsaturated is OK in smallish amounts) and purify thy house and all that is therein. Set outside thy dwelling, then, the vat of fat to signify thy purity, so that thou mayest be holy and live long in the land.” –Hezekiah 12:33

It all started years ago, when I read the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. And now it’s come to this–quasi-biblical rituals designed to appease the diet gods. That’s what it looks like, anyway. What really happened is that reading Fast Food Nation caused me to give up fast food (not a big sacrifice for me) and then to become more interested in the politics of food.

That led me to design one of my college courses around the topic, and that led to further reading and many research papers on the subject from my students. Canned FatThat all led to inviting the class for dinner one Friday night, with the students bringing various foods, both virtuous and less so, to pass around the table. One pair of students brought banana wontons, which required deep frying, and that led to a pan full of hot oil set outside the door to cool, which I of course promptly forgot about for a couple days. So the quasi-biblical ritual was not intentional. But there it was.

My study of food politics has brought about, as I call it, “collateral damage” in our household. In other words, we are actually eating healthier these days. We’ve grown especially fond of the “super foods” concept, which emphasizes eating those foods that are especially high in all kinds of invisible, magical nutrients like beta carotenes and flavonoids. They also taste good.

We’re not food nazis by any means. But here’s some recommended reading for Thanksgiving season, with the warning that you may find yourself, someday soon, carefully perusing the sweet potatoes at the local farmer’s market. And putting pots of oil outside your door.

  • Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (Harper Perennial, 2005).
  • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin, 2006).
  • Bryant Terry and Anna Lappe, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (Penguin, 2006).
Debra Rienstra teaches English at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article first appeared on her blog,

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching early British literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for The Twelve as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.