My Lost Years Without Desi Ghee

From The Guardian

Butter, cheese and even red meat are not as bad for the heart as has been maintained, a cardiologist has said in a leading medical journal, adding that it is time to “bust the myth” of saturated fat…
“Recent prospective cohort studies have not supported significant association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular risk,” he argues. “Instead, saturated fat has been found to be protective.”

Doctors and scientists are now ready to proclaim that saturated fats are good for you. Not just OK, but good. Better than those sucky unsaturated fats we’ve been using all these years. This is not just the opinion of one diet guru somewhere. There are now many studies and meta-studies (apparently that is a thing where you study other studies) that conclude that saturated animal fats of the kind found in butter and lard do not lead to heart disease.

Now I’m not a science hater. In fact some of my best friends are scientists. My father was one. And I do understand that paradigm-shifting is in the nature of scientific revolutions. (There is actually a book by Thomas Kuhn, sitting on my shelf, that explains all this. It is an important book, though totally unreadable.) For example, at one time Neanderthals were supposed to be cousins of us homo sapiens but from a branch on the family tree that died off before we hit the scene. But with more fossils and genome analysis it has emerged that homo sapiens were contemporaneous and interbred with the Neanderthals and we all now carry Neanderthal DNA. Delightful shift in paradigms, no? Though a little embarrassing for those people who used the word “Neanderthal” to describe certain people at work.

But I have no problem that 2.7% of my genome is Neanderthal. I’m pretty liberal that way. On the other hand, this latest round of myth-busting, paradigm-shifting science about saturated animal fats has gotten me terribly depressed. To think that all my adult life I have substituted margarine for butter and Crisco for desi ghee fills me with great regret.

I grew up in a place called Hisar, in the state of Haryana, India. Hisar was the proud seat of Haryana Agricultural University. My father was a dairy scientist and a professor of animal nutrition in the College of Animal Sciences.

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Haryana, it is an Indian state neighbouring Delhi that is famous for many things including Haryanavi, a bold, assertive dialect of Hindi that you will often hear in Bollywood movies used by thugs and comedic policemen.

new milk chart

But the thing that Haryana is most identified with is milk. The state poet Uday Bhanu Hans has described it thus, Desan mein des Haryana, jit doodh dahi ka khana. Which is too deep to translate into English, but roughly means that Haryanavis like their dairy products.

In this state, in its only agricultural university, in its college of animal sciences, my father was a professor of animal nutrition. My connection with livestock and milk was visceral. Literally. Besides spending many a Sunday at the University farm (see photo), I consumed copious amounts of milk and dairy products.


Ghee, or clarified butter, is the pinnacle of a Haryanavi’s connection with milk. It is its most refined, celestial form. It goes into the havan fire as an offering to the gods. It also goes into every edible thing imaginable. And if you can’t do without it, mixed with some milk, it can be had straight from the glass, between meals.

In the bazaar ghee was often referred to as Shudh Desi Ghee. “Desi” separated it from that evil concoction of hydrogenated vegetable oils called Dalda. And “Shudh” was well, pure. Some halvai’s would mix in a bit of Dalda since it was much cheaper. But not this halvai.

All through our childhood, we had lots of ghee. But as an adult who made responsible health decisions, I reduced and then completely stopped having ghee. We cooked in vegetable oil and ate sukhi roti. I pined for ghee, but knew that she wasn’t right for me. For twenty years now, I’ve been living a sukhi zindagi, thanks to faulty science. I may find it in me to forgive her in time, but this is not one to forget.

On the bright side, I should still be thankful that I have the rest of my life to enjoy ghee. Just imagine if I had died before the saturated-fat-is-bad paradigm had shifted. To have gone through my adult life without ghee, only to have it poured on my funeral pyre would have been such a travesty.

And now that ghee and butter are good, what about bacon?


  1. Patrix says:

    To paraphrase a certain Bachchan, woh jeena bhi koi jeena tha, laloo 🙂


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