Fat all attraction

Ruth Picardie has her cake and eats it

Eat Fat by Richard Klein, Picador, pounds 15.99

Diet books are terribly passe these days. Instead of calorie counting, everyone is "eating for health": food combining, the anti-candida system, allergy eradication attempts. Last week, I met a German doctor who advised me to begin a "low acid" eating programme, avoiding rhubarb, wild cherries, gooseberries, yoghurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, vitamin C, margarine and meat. A few days later, a nutrionist urged me to give up wheat, oats, rye, barley, dairy products, sugar, salt, tea, coffee, chocolate and, of course, alcohol.

The new ideology - emphasising health, not weight loss - may be different from the old, but the advice is the same: contradictory, ever-changing and impossibly austere. A few hours after I met the nutrionist, I ate four slices of walnut cake.

The other growth area is the anti-diet book, a genre pioneered by Susie Orbach in the 1970s with Fat Is A Feminist Issue. Eat Fat by Richard Klein covers much of the same ground: the historical rarity of the emaciated ideal; the greed of the medical-health-beauty industry; the damage that dieting can do to the body; and the scary new generation of "anti-obesity" drugs.

What is new about this book is, in part, its tone. Klein, a professor of French at Cornell University who once rode in a car with Roland Barthes, declares Eat Fat to be a "postmodern" diet book, lo on angry sexual politics, hi on fun. He aims to charm, not shock, the reader into giving up diets. "This book is designed to be thrown away," he writes. "Once you have consumed it, the text should vanish, and remain a delicious memory, like the faint recurrence of the feeling of well-being that accompanies the disappearance into your mouth of a chocolate truffle."

Thus Klein (who weighs 200lb) breaks off from expressing rage at the word obesity to write about his fat mom and fat sister: "They've both been dieting for decades...and have been getting fatter and fatter." He explores Fat Admiring sexual subcultures, from the endlessly frustrated Chubby Chasers ("They are looking for fat women [like glamour model Teighlor, who once weighed 719lb] with self-esteem, who love themselves fat") to the happier gay world of Flabio and Bulk Male. Later, he stops exploring the relationship between power and fat ("It's not money the rich are afraid to spend, but calories, which are worth more than money") to ask: "Why are Americans obese? Ask a Frenchman."

Klein's book isn't so much an anti-diet book but a pro-fat book, and he worships it with the sensuality of the best cookery writers. His love of fat is comprehensive, from the pleasure of plump olives to the sweet power of Jessye Norman, from 18th-century fat ("The creamy skin of those large dollops of pink women," begins his hymn of praise to a Boucher painting) to the ultra-modern. "She slips me an extra slice of toast," he writes of the waitress in his local diner, "heavily buttered. I really don't need it, but...I eat it all, because she loves me. Because with the wind howling and the snow sweeping through barely plowed streets, that fat is a kiss, between her and me."

Klein's really big idea is that diets make you fat: not physiologically, as many nutrionists now believe, but philosophically. The more we diet, the fatter we are getting. Between 1980 and 1991, the proportion of overweight Americans rose from one in four to one in three; when Hillary Clinton installed a healthy, fish-grilling chef at the White House, the president gained weight. The lower in fat they are, the more crisps we eat. Ergo, says Klein, if we stop dieting, we'll get thinner. In which case, I'll have another slice of that cake.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project