Forth feeds the reader some toothsome titbits in this unnerving but gripping book. He comments that the nouvelle cuisine that started in the 1970s sought to distance us from ‘the coarser aspects of animal life’, both by the chefs’ smaller portions and by the minimalist manner in which they served them, and decries our obsession with healthy eating as a species of magical thinking. ‘Diets ostensibly aimed at forestalling death,’ he writes, ‘may result in lifestyles that treat “life” as a problem. We may all be encouraged to eat organic, but not because we are entirely comfortable being organic.’ Our stereotypes of fat, and our dislike, even horror, of those we currently see and shame as departing from some ideal body-shape degrade and dishonour us
Why do we in the West have such an intense aversion to fat? Was fatness really celebrated as a sign of health, prosperity, status and beauty at some point in the distant past? Christopher Forth explores these questions in his lively, ambitious book Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life... Forth’s analysis is given an excellent, often unsettling edge by his insistence on understanding fat not just visually but viscerally too. He is interested in fat as an organic, material substance found in humans, animals and even soil. We don’t just look at fat; we touch, taste and smell it as well. Forth immerses us in the lusciously greasy delights of dietary fats, the transcendent luminosity of sacred oils and religious offerings, and the early modern traffic in axungia hominis (human fat), used for medical purposes...when Forth is out of his chronological comfort zone, his analysis and arguments begin to feel unmoored. Some important factors, such as the Christian notion of bodily resurrection and the rise of imperialism, receive considerable attention, but, given that they are very rich areas of historiographical study in their own right, his analysis feels a little undeveloped... Overall, this is a ‘fat’ book in the most agriculturally positive sense of the word. It is an impressive, lively study and an enjoyable read. Forth’s book breaks new ground and will provide historians of the body with much to think about for years to come.