The lard is in the larder. Crisp plastic containers -- a pound each -- of pure white non-hydrogenated leaf lard from Dietrich's Meats in Pennsylvania (610-756-6344) are stacked up in the freezer in anticipation of our next pie -- chocolate for Tuck's birthday? -- or batch of Chelsea Baked Beans. Lard isn't for everything you bake, of course. We tried substituting lard for butter in our experimental kitchen the other day for a batch of Ocean Spray's Classic Cranberry Nut Bread and found the result quite bland. Sometimes only butter will do. For flavor and flakiness, our pie crusts incorporate both butter and lard.
"Detailed research -- much of it done at Harvard -- shows that the total amount of fat in the diet, whether high or low, isn't really linked with disease," explains the Harvard School of Public Health's "The Nutrition Source," acknowledging the cascade of consensus fifty years ago that led the sheeple to accept the notion that fatty foods "were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments." Instead, according to the latest thinking, "What really matters is the type of fat in the diet":
What is becoming clearer and clearer is that bad fats, meaning saturated and trans fats, increase the risk for certain diseases while good fats, meaning monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lower the risk. The key is to substitute good fats for bad fats.
And cholesterol in food? Although it is still important to limit the amount of cholesterol you eat, especially if you have diabetes, dietary cholesterol isn't nearly the villain it's been portrayed to be.
Not all would agree that saturated fats are "bad" per se (see below), but there seems to be no dissent regarding trans fats. More from Harvard SPH:
Most of the trans fats in the American diet are found in commercially prepared baked goods, margarines, snack foods and processed foods. Commercially prepared fried foods, like French fries and onion rings, also contain a good deal of trans fat.
Trans fats are even worse for cholesterol levels than saturated fats because they raise bad LDL and lower good HDL. [Saturated fats raise both LDL and HDL.] They also fire inflammation, an overactivity of the immune system that has been implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions. While you should limit your intake of saturated fats, it is important to eliminate trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils from your diet. (Manufacturers must now list trans fats on the food label, right beneath saturated fats.)
Today's poster child for what's wrong with the American way of eating, trans fats entered the nation's kitchens and restaurants just over a century ago -- as we blogged here the other day -- when Procter & Gamble introduced its all-vegetable shortening Crisco as "a healthier alternative to cooking with animal fats . . . and more economical than butter," Linda Joyce Forristal quotes P&G’s first ad campaign in a tendentious but persuasive telling of "The Rise and Fall of Crisco" -- "the quintessential imitation food" -- a classic the-business-of-America-is-business tale of ingenuity and enterprise spurred by market forces:
The story of Crisco begins innocently enough in pre-Civil War America when candlemaker William Procter and his brother-in-law, soap maker James Gamble, joined forces to compete with fourteen other soap and candlemakers in Cincinnati, Ohio. P&G entered the shortening business out of necessity. In the 1890s, the meatpacking monopoly controlled the price of lard and tallow needed to make candles and soap. P&G took steps to gain control of the cottonseed oil business from farm to factory. By 1905, they owned eight cottonseed mills in Mississippi. In 1907, with the help of German chemist E. C. Kayser, P&G developed the science of hydrogenation. By adding hydrogen atoms to the fatty acid chain, this revolutionary industrial process transformed liquid cottonseed oil into a solid that resembled lard.
Not content with using hardened cottonseed oil for soaps, and mindful that electrification was forcing the candle business into decline, P&G looked for other markets for their new product. Since hydrogenated cottonseed oil resembled lard, why not sell it as a food?
Americans' embrace of Crisco and other plant-derived fats was good for business, giving rise to powerful corporate lobbies and a cascading consensus of scientific opinion that drowned out dissenting voices, as Mary Enig explains in her own dissenting "The Oiling of America":
In 1956, an American Heart Association fund-raiser aired on all three major networks . . . Panelists presented the lipid hypothesis as the cause of the heart disease epidemic and launched the Prudent Diet, one in which corn oil, margarine, chicken and cold cereal replaced butter, lard, beef and eggs. But the television campaign was not an unqualified success because one of the panelists, Dr. Paul Dudley White [cardiologist not only to President Eisenhower, but to our own paternal grandfather as well], disputed his colleagues at the AHA. Dr. White noted that heart disease in the form of myocardial infarction was nonexistent in 1900 when egg consumption was three times what it was in 1956 and when corn oil was unavailable. When pressed to support the Prudent Diet, Dr. White replied: "See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921 and I never saw an MI patent until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil."
Dissenter Enig would agree:
Animal fats are nutritious, satisfying and they taste good. "Whatever is the cause of heart disease," said the eminent biochemist Michael Gurr in a recent article, "it is not primarily the consumption of saturated fats." And yet the high priests of the lipid hypothesis continue to lay their curse on the fairest of culinary pleasures -- butter and Bernaise, whipped cream, souffles and omelets, full-bodied cheeses, juicy steaks and pork sausage.
Mmmmm. We WANT to believe she knows what she's talking about, and given our species' proven preference for cascading consent, we're taking anything Harvard SPH says with a grain of salt. Sea salt, of course.
Update: The Doctor is in at the all new Carnival of the Insanities.