Tom Purcell, 1/8/2007 [Archive]

My Addiction To Trans Fats

My Addiction to Trans Fats

By Tom Purcell

This is hard for me to admit publicly: I'm addicted to trans fats.

My addiction started innocently enough. I loved butter. I used it generously on toast and in recipes of every kind. I loved lard, too, and smattered my skillet with it every time I made eggs or pancakes.

But the experts got to me.

They said animal-based fats were bad for me -- that they'd clog my arteries and send me to an early grave. What's worse, they said, is that innocent animals were being slaughtered to feed my vile habit.

They told me to eat margarine instead, a butter substitute often made from vegetable oil. It wasn't easy at first -- the older butter substitutes didn't taste very good. But over time, margarine improved. I came to love it better than the real thing.

Now the experts are telling me not to eat margarine.

As it goes, many margarines are made from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hydrogenation adds hydrogen atoms to the oil. The process makes the oil harder and less rancid and dramatically increases its shelf life.

But hydrogenation also causes a portion of the converted oil to become trans fatty acids -- nasty little molecules that have an uncanny ability to stick to artery walls. A number of respectable studies found a correlation between trans fat consumption and heart disease.

Some advocacy groups jumped on the news. They filed lawsuits demanding that fast food joints cut trans fats from their recipes. They pressured government bodies to ban their use.

The advocacy groups have been successful. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy's and Starbucks vowed to reduce trans fats. New York City banned their use in restaurants within all five boroughs.

These actions have fueled my addiction to the latest forbidden fruit to be vilified across the airwaves.

I wake nights in a cold sweat. In my slippers and pajamas, I walk to the car. I drive to the convenience store. I stand for hours near the heated rollers in the back of the room. I watch the hot dogs and mini tacos roll round and round.

And then I binge. I eat everything sitting on those hot rollers, then move to the chip aisle, where I devour Pringles, Doritos, Cheetos and a variety of deep-fried delicacies.

I saunter over to the baked-goods aisle, the finest aisle in the store. I devour Twinkies and Ding Dongs and Dolly Madison pies. I gorge myself until a trans-fatty sugar rush causes me to black out. I wake in a damp alley, candy wrappers spread about the pavement, the sun just coming up.

I need help, I know. But I'm not alone. The whole world's gone insane. Sure, trans fats ARE bad for us. A sane man would consume them in moderation or avoid them altogether -- a sane man would try out a variety of alternative products.

In a sane world, food providers would be required to fully disclose what is in their products. Consumers should have full knowledge of what they are about to put into their bodies. Advocacy groups would help inform us about what is good and bad. Then consumers would freely choose whatever they want to eat.

That is how we'd go about it in a society that is truly free and open. Instead, we're yielding to a small group of people who want to decide what the rest of us should eat -- who want to use the courts and the government to force their will on the rest of us for our own good.

These are the people who fuel my addiction.

The truth be told, my illness began when the same people ran Olestra out of town. Olestra was an engineered fat that the human body was unable to absorb. Sure, some people had digestive tract problems when they ate it, but most of us could eat as much as we wanted and not gain a pound.

What a free and spirited country America was then. Jay Leno summed it up well. Only a country like that would try to invent fake fat.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications."

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