When I turn to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, I more or less know what I'll find. Paul Krugman will be preaching to the choir and David Brooks will be gamely hiding the strain of being the conservative that liberals can almost imagine having lunch with. On very special days, the paper may issue some rumblings about the UN's Oil-for-Food affair. The last thing I expect to see is an engraved invitation to eat french fries and fried chicken, yet that is roughly what I got one day last summer.
Extending this astonishing offer was the food writer Corby Kummer. In response to the news that New York City's health commissioner had asked local restaurants to stop using cooking oils containing trans fats, comparing them to such hazards as lead and asbestos, Kummer proposed that we bring back lard, "the great misunderstood fat." Lard, he cheerfully reported, contains just 40 percent saturated fat (compared with nearly 60 percent for butter). Its level of monounsaturated fat (the "good" fat) is "a very respectable 45 percent," he noted, "double butter's paltry 23 or so percent." Kummer hinted that if I wanted to appreciate the virtues of this health food, I needed to fry shoestring potatoes or a chicken drumstick.
What did I know about lard? Bupkes. To my generation, the phrase deep fried in pure lard is shorthand for morbid obesity. Born in the '60s and raised in New England, I had consumed as much lard as a resident of Mecca. Okay, I exaggerate. I had eaten a pie crust made with lard and seen the way it flaked under a fork. But I'd eaten nothing fried in lard. "It is absolutely the best for frying," says Fran McCullough, author of The Good Fat Cookbook, an impassioned defense of butter, fish oil and other natural sources of fat. "Nothing crisps food quite as well as lard. Hands down, there's no better fried chicken."