Book Review: This Is Why You're Fat: An Extraordinary Document of Human Culinary Achievement
We finally got our grubby paws on what could be the most hotly-anticipated book release of 2009, This Is Why You're Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks ($9.99, Amazon) by Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley. Contained within these soft covers, scarcely larger than a CD jewel case, is, without a doubt, a thing of great wonder and beauty. In case you were wondering: Yes, the book is a regurgitation of the (mostly) garishly amateur photographs found on the eponymous blog, This Is Why You're Fat. In its short life, the blog has become the preeminent record of what's now officially known as the gross-food movement (a term coined by Robert Ashley in Gourmet).
Designed just like the website — Hot pink! Bright blue! Cooper Black! — it all verges perilously close to gastronomic pornography. Excitingly, nearly half of the entries in the print edition are supplemented by recipes and instructions. By absorbing its submissions into one neat package, it becomes a more refined, coherent version of the online experience. And much to the frowning consternation of traditionalist olds, the crowd-sourced, sensationalist gorge-blog has been transformed into what's commonly defined as a cookbook.
But besides those recipes, This Is Why You're Fat is surprisingly light on text. Admittedly, most readers are here for the photos, but the non-photo content is a little thin. It includes: a preface from The Onion's Joe Garden, a couple of paragraphs on oversized foods from the "Novelty Food Tester" of Gizmodo, a handful of "how I did it" breakdowns about a few dishes, and three paragraphs about poutine, and that's it. Dishes are presented in print just as they are on the website, one user-generated photo after another, loosely connected by themes like "Bacon Gone Wild" and "Big-Time Burgers." Amason and Blakeley write more words in their acknowledgments than they do in the book's introduction.
While the transcendentally caloric creations speak volumes for themselves, there's still an unspoken question that goes unanswered: should this food be loved, or should it be derided? In her introduction, co-editor Amason declines to take a side, writing that "whether seen as a commentary on North American dietary habits or a celebration of the deliciously bad, we're devoted to the world's obsession with over-the-top food... we like to think of it as a finger-wagging and high five in one."
In some ways, it's a missed opportunity for Amason and Blakeley, self-styled curators of the culinary grotesque, to give us more context: Why is this happening? Why now? Who's cooking this? Who's eating this? If not to provide even a basic survey of the gross-food movement, why put this together? The pageviews and the six-figure book deal? If we take this book seriously, are we in on the joke, or are we part of it? Back in March, before they were outed, the co-authors told the Winnipeg Sun: "We started it, because we noticed a trend, but while it started as a joke...in every joke, there's some truth. These foods really are why our society is so fat."
Regardless of the editors' intentions, This Is Why You're Fat turns out to be a striking document of a particular culinary moment. Caveats aside, we'd like to think that the book has more significance than a gag Christmas gift available at your local Urban Outfitters. Individually, the book's culinary creations — things like the Porkgasm, the Bacone, the Happy Meal Pizza, the McGangBang — stand out as honest expressions of creativity with the necessary dash of pure gluttony. When viewed as a whole, consumed all at once, it's a glimpse into the internet hive mind, converged and then curated into a beautiful, little book — a joyous celebration of gross food.