Fatberg, Frankenburger and the power of disgust

Clearly our disgust impulse is no basis for ethical decisions, but as we’ve learned this week, acknowledging that doesn’t make the revulsion any easier to overcome.

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Gordon Haliwood, waste contracts supervisor for Thames Water was Captain Ahab and the ‘fatberg’ was his Moby Dick. Earlier this week, after three nights in the sewers, Haliwood and his crew finally dislodged this London bus-sized monstrosity from pipes under Kingston in Surrey. “We’ve never seen a single, congealed lump of lard this big clogging our sewers before,” he said.

In a story rich with revolting detail – the used wet wipes, the general ‘congealing’ - it was Haliwood’s word ‘lard’ that posed the most serious challenge to my gag reflex. The comparison to a food stuff was too much.

Fortunately, no one was seriously suggesting a fatberg feast. The suggestion that we chow down on this week’s second most revolting news item, however, couldn’t be more serious. The petri-dish grown meat, dubbed ‘Frankenburger’ could solve global hunger and drastically reduce the quantities of climate-changing gas released into the atmosphere. Yet so far the public’s considered reaction is best summed up as “Ew, gross.” Clearly this impulse is no basis for ethical decisions, but as we’ve learned this week, acknowledging that doesn’t make our revulsion any easier to overcome.

If there is no resisting the awesome power of disgust, it must instead be harnessed to motivate change. In this regard, and absolutely no other, Fatberg is a wonderful gift and its efficient destruction a wasted opportunity. At the very least, it should have been hoisted on to the back of a truck and paraded around the neighbouring streets, so the people of Kingston might be forced to confront this monster of their own creation.

Boris and the Goblin

While Thames Water battled Surrey’s subterranean monsters, above-ground, the London Mayor was fending off a “Gollum-like creature” of his own. You don’t have to be a Boris-hater to find the story of his torment at RideLondon 100 pleasing. Johnson was cycling along an arduous stretch when a man later identified as Bob Carter, 52 – cycled alongside him and began offering  such ‘encouragement’ as “Put your back into it, you fat bastard”. An unrepentant Carter later insisted he was only concerned for the “sickly” Mayor.

Amid a complicated debate about a particularly nasty sort of online abuse, it’s comforting to note that some still prefer the nostalgic pleasures of cheeking a public figure face-to-face. Boris obviously saw the funny side and has dubbed Carter ‘the Norwich Goblin’. I call that even.

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