Hanukkah and Fat – Part 3

On the third night of Hanukkah, we lit the hand-dipped beeswax candles, sang the blessing, and sat down to a latka extravaganza. Latkes are one of those dishes, similar to apple pie, that never comes close to right when eaten outside of your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. I hate to spoil it, but it’s usually not because the recipe really is THAT GOOD. It’s because the flavors and textures of the dish are interwoven with cherished memories and the tastes trigger the feelings. No offense, grandmas!

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a safe and loving environment, I send blessings of courage to be the safe and loving person who breaks the cycle of violence and refuses to pass on wounds to future generations. I also hope that my recipes will become part of your new traditions, especially the latka recipe that I’ll share on the eighth night.

It’s my belief that at least a few of these wounds come from a lack of empowerment and often it begins with the way we spell, or speak. So many of us struggle to make sense of ourselves and our relationships in a society that loves to paint everything in binaries: as A or B, good or evil, man or woman, left or right. Binary thought makes it so incredibly challenging to escape our gender roles, define our politics and make room for creative solutions. Instead, I invite you to use the incantation of many realms by saying “yes, and” instead of  “or/but”  next time you find yourself at what seems to be a crossroads.

How does any of this relate to food?

Bringing back the 80’s will never bring back all those tasty yolks. Photo by BryanSJS

Diet trends are some of the more obvious examples of “or” mentality. Remember the egg scare of the 80’s? Suddenly, eggs went from being great to being terrible. Or the Atkins-inspired carb scare of the 90’s, or the fat scare of the 60’s? We’re still reeling from the effects of that one. Is it possible that a food, or in fat’s case, a family of molecules is totally bad or totally good? This is an incredibly oversimplified way of judging the world, is it not?

Let’s take a look at how to think beyond “good fats” and “bad fats”

Here are some of the oversimplified fat consumption rules you may have come across:

Fats are bad.

Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good. 

Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good. 

Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good. 

Now let’s get complicated!

Fats are bad. We know that the human body needs fats to perform essential functions and protect us from potential famine. See Fat – Part II for details.

Animal fats are bad. Plant fats are good.  Fats come in a variety of forms and can be sourced from many foods. The reality is that we should be paying much more attention to what our foods are exposed to during growth and processing because nerve-toxin insecticides like organophosphates and heavy metals accumulate in fat. Don’t believe that just because it’s organic, it’s safe. It’s true that organic production standards are constantly changing and unlike Canada, where COG is the governing body created by and made up of organic farmers, the United States has the USDA that is informed by lobbyists for Big Ag, the National Organic Standards Board and the public. Recently, as organics have taken a greater market-share of total food sales, large producers are finding new ways to weaken regulations. Your best bet is to find local sources, meet them and ask how they produce their crops or raise their animals. You’ll not only be able to support your local economy, but you’ll make new friends and eat the freshest possible food available. If all else fails, write an email to your favorite far-away producers and ask them what they use in their fields and farms. Gain the knowledge and get the power to eat fats with confidence.

Saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and trans fats are bad. Monounsaturated fats are good.  In my high school home economics class we were taught that trans fats (from lab-created fat alternatives) and saturated fats (from split-hoofed animals and some plants) were bad, polyunsaturated fats (from chicken and some plants) were ok, and monounsaturated fats (from some fish and some plants) was ideal.

There’s nothing I can see worth defending in trans-fats, especially the use of penny romance novel cover star Fabio persuading the (mostly female) household food purchasers that it’s a legit alternative to butter. I avoid them at all costs, meaning I’ll eat them when they’re free but would never spend a dime on them. I’ve yet to see conclusive evidence that there is a benefit to consuming this fat. Since the human body has yet to figure out how to effectively process this lab-created fat, it often stores it or flushes it out. My old adage is to eat  molecules that have been consumed for at least a thousand years.

So let’s take a closer look at saturated fats. Assuming your fat source hasn’t accumulated environmental toxins, recent studies have shown that there’s no proof that saturated fats increase heart disease. They don’t do a tremendous amount of good lowering heart disease, but hey! At least they don’t increase it and they’re recognizable as food in the body and to me they are food for the soul. Monounsaturated fats like omega 9’s like those found in olive oil and some tree nuts oils are fabulous, I won’t argue with Mrs. Hathaway*.

Omega 6’s are bad. Omega 3’s are good.
As for polyunsaturated fats such as Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s, our body can’t make them and it’s essential that we get them from somewhere, to support basic body functions, hence their title, “essential fatty acids”. They’re liquid at room temperature. Without getting too complicated, I’m just going to suggest that foods high in Omega 3’s, 6’s and 9’s are all great in diversity and moderation. I’ll expand on their role as cooking oils in my post, Hanukkah and Fat – Part IV.

If you’ve got a favorite Northwest source for fats, list it in the comments.

https:// www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-05/documents/environments-contaminants-chemicals-food.pdf
https:// www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/is-butter-really-back/
https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24723079

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of my home ec. teacher….in case.

Hanukkah and Fat – Part 2

For all you Jews out there, I hope you enjoyed your Chinese restaurant dining experience. It’s amazing how a tradition like that comes about. If in 100 years from now our decedents are gathered in ritual around a big plate of General Tso’s chicken, we’ll know we’ve successfully left our mark on the cloth of Jewish culture and children will wonder “who was General Tso and why is he so important at this time of year?” just as they now wonder “why do we light candles and who’s Judah Maccabee?”.

Unlike other holidays that were woven into the Torah from more ancient roots, Hanukkah is post-Torah, a minor holiday, but one that has grown in significance as the time when Jews around the world gather with family during the “holiday season”. Candles are lit and the prayer is said to honor the Jews who, when given the option of conversion or death, decided that their worldview was worth preserving and so fought back. I respect the ancestors for fighting for their political autonomy and self-determination. There are many cultures alive today that are fighting for that very same thing. Ones that come to mind immediately are the Secwepemc peoples of southern-central BC, the Tibetans and the Palestinians.

The legend of the oil, how it burned for eight days instead of one, after the eternal flame of the temple was relit upon reclamation, was added to the Talmud long after the original account had been transcribed in the Book of the Maccabees. Regardless of the truthiness behind the miracle, I think oil, and fat overall, is a miracle food and should be celebrated, not shunned. Fat-phobia has gone too far!

By the eighth night you’ll not only have my recipe for latkes but you’ll stop counting calories and start eating fats with confidence and context!

Have you ever wondered what roles fats play in the body?

Fats are lipids, along with oils, beta carotene and other plant pigments, Vitamin E, wax and cholesterol. For the sake of explaining the science, I’m glomming fats and oils together because the only difference is their melting points.

Our body craves and creates fat for many reasons. For one, it’s essential to a life as stored energy in unpredictable environments, like when fascists take over. Our ancestors lived in times of feast and famine, so we evolved to survive in the lean times. Long term stress, chemically showing up in our body as cortisol, triggers our body to store fat as quickly as possible. Fat’s an amazingly efficient mechanism for energy storage. If your body only stored energy in the form of glycogen (the carbohydrate version) or muscle tissue, you’d have to put on twice the pounds to store the same amount of energy.

For another, it’s essential to life in the form of fatty acids – most that our body can make, and a few that it can’t. I hate to be the one to tell you, but the stomach doesn’t break down fat, it’s the liver and pancreas that do the heavy lifting.  Aside from creating fat from excess starches, sugars and proteins and then sending those fat molecules off to be stored for the lean times in places like just below the skin, the liver also breaks down the fat we eat into fatty acids with the help of pancreatic juices, and these fatty acids play a multitude of important roles in the body like creating cell membranes (ours are made of lipids unlike plant walls that are made of cellulose – a starch, and fungi walls that are made of polysaccharides – another starch). Additionally, fatty acids act as messengers in our body’s “comms unit” (the endocrine system) and guide dogs for blind proteins, making sure they get to their destination.

There are at least two essential fatty acids, essential because our body can’t make them, and to keep things simple, we’ll discuss the main ones: Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s. Often they get labeled as “good fats” and others get labeled as “bad fats”. This is a bit of an oversimplification, and I’ll explain why tomorrow.


McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. Scribner, 2004.
http:// www.slideshare.net/vicky14381/functions-of-fatty-acids