Fat, Gluttony and Sloth: Representing Obesity in Literature, Art and Medicine by David Haslam and Fiona Haslam - review by Paul Bailey

Paul Bailey

Supersize Us

Fat, Gluttony and Sloth: Representing Obesity in Literature, Art and Medicine


Liverpool University Press 326pp £65 hbk/£25 pbk

In Nora Ephron’s film Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, the tall, big-boned food writer and television cook. Child, who lived into her ninety-second year, is seen adding generous amounts of Normandy butter to the sauces, roasts and desserts she prepares. Her classic book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, written in collaboration with Simone Beck, is a sustained celebration of dairy produce. Thanks to the movie, it is a bestseller in America in its forty-ninth reprint. I kept this in mind while reading Fat, Gluttony and Sloth, a work designed to induce guilt and misery in those of us who consider eating and drinking two of the greatest pleasures in life. David Haslam, described as ‘Chair and Clinical Director of the National Obesity Forum’, wags an admonitory finger throughout as he warns us of the dangers of overindulgence, while his wife Fiona, who used to be a medical practitioner, provides chapter and verse from the literature of Ancient Greece to the present day. There are hundreds of illustrations, ranging from the masterpieces of Western art (Fra Angelico is credited as Angelica – or did he have a talented sister of whose existence history has been silent?) to the seaside postcards of Donald McGill and his less talented followers. Part anthology, part sermon, Fat, Gluttony and Sloth is an expensive reminder of the perils awaiting eager diners and guzzlers.

David and Fiona Haslam are aware that fat people have often been associated with kindness and generosity, while at the same time being objects of ridicule and disgust. Samuel Pickwick is heroic, yet Billy Bunter and Tweedledum and Tweedledee are created just to be mocked. Falstaff, the greatest

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