It's FAT TUESDAY today- also known as Mardi Gras, Carnevale, or closer to home, Pancake Day. We are meant to clear out our cupboards, use up any butter, eggs, sugar. Today is a gut buster- we are encouraged to line our bellies with richness and fat in anticipation of 40 Lenten days without booze, chocolate and meat. And just when I'm getting ready to go into dietary lockdown, the menu is looking very interesting.
Condiments at the ready, people, because a Dutch scientist has created a laboratory hamburger - grown from stem cells claimed from a cow. It's the world's first synthetic burger but with a £200,000 research price tag, it won't be putting Mickey D's out of business anytime soon. But will we forsake taste for a futuristic all you can eat carnivorous buffet? The petri-dish protein will be mixed with a marble of fat and flavourings to make it palatable, as well as chemicals and antibiotics to stop it rotting. Deee-licious!
Thankfully there won't be any Dutch Frankenburgers on the menu at Burger Queen, a beauty pageant for fatties infused with the spirit of a camp 1970s gameshow. Over five weeks in March, a dozen contestants will don stretch sequins and compete in rounds of Talent, Taste and Trend. The winner will be chosen by a panel of judges with yours truly at the helm - a sort of chubby Simon Cowell - though I promise to leave my tight t-shirts at home. It's more than just an evening of flabulous fun; Burger Queen 2012 serves as a focal point for an exciting new brand of fat activism that definitely hasn't been cooked up in a laboratory test tube.
The event's creator and host Scottee wants to empower fatties and create an open and honest discussion around body politics. "It's a positive event that embraces health at every size and encourages ownership of the word fat," he explains. There are some pretty radical politics at its heart. "At Burger Queen, to identify as 'fat' is to identify as other, regardless what that might be; so you don't necessarily need to be fat in order to identify as fat. Got it? Good. Every radical political movement needs a supporting cast of multi-sized justice-fighters, after all.
Scottee, founder of Burger Queen
Until now, the issue of obesity has been very much an "us" and "them" dynamic- think Supersize vs Superskinny writ large. Burger Queen is asking everyone - regardless of body size - to step into a pair of wide width stilettos and try our chubby lives on for size.
According to Scottee, the timing has never been better. "2012 is an ideal moment to strike back as we are subjected to the Olympics, which just so happens to be sponsored by some of the worlds most calorific brands." Irony, anyone?
Our awareness of fat - fear of it, fascination with it - is heightened in this era of economic austerity. Fat has become not just an aesthetic issue, but a moral issue as well. Documentaries on obesity and competitive TV programmes disguised as light entertainment tell us fat people are broken, unhappy and a drain on the NHS. The government has been accused of browbeating fatties, actively encouraging a trickle down effect of bullying and discrimination. The murky world of dietary advice is played out on our TV screens, magazines, and radio airwaves.
Last week on Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Dr Susan Jebb, chief advisor to the UK government on obesity, lectured a woman who had failed at every dieting attempt - according to Jebb, she just needs to try harder in order to slim down. Dr Jebb is a member of Scientific Advisory Boards for Coca-Cola, Heinz, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Kellogg's. Interestingly, Heinz produce Weight Watchers foods - overpriced, undernourishing products that contribute to the organisation's paltry 6% sustained weight loss "success" rate. But they won't tell you that; they want your money, and shareholders like a restless, fat mass of people brainwashed into thinking Weight Watchers is the answer to all their chubby troubles. Not until we recognize the dichotomy of the weight loss industry - the fact it NEEDS us to be fat, unhappy and desperate to shed weight in order to make money from us - will we be truly liberated. Burger Queen is exploring this issue in a very real way.
Scottee has been on a different commercially available diet every week and has documented his experiences; a short film exploring the physical and psychological effects of the diets will be screened at each Burger Queen event. So which was the hardest to stick to? "The well known replacement shake was the worst," he claims. "I was so surprised how little I was allowed to eat and the side effects of headaches, vomiting and lack of concentration that are discussed on their official online forums." Despite losing 5lbs he has regained 2lbs in as many days and found himself thinking about hiding food - something Scottee hasn't thought about since he conquered his addiction to eating in secret years ago.
The essential issue at hand is whether fat is a problem to be solved, or just a fact of life. Scientists may be able to make uniform, perfectly balanced burgers in a petri dish, but humans are much more than a collection of cells glued together with protein, fat and vitamins. We are messy, complex, diverse; thin, fat, and everything inbetween. We educate our children that difference is a glory to be embraced, so we need to include BQ - burger queens - in our list of BME, LGBTQ, ad infinitum. And remember... for some people, EVERY Tuesday is Fat Tuesday.
Burger Queen is every Thursday in March at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London. www.burger-queen.info
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