Fat chance of ignoring this: maligned matter is key to life

Science Gallery exhibition highlights why we need fat and how we can benefit from it

Science Gallery exhibition highlights why we need fat and how we can benefit from it. Fat: It’s Delicious opens on Friday 16th of May and runs until June 29th. Video: Daniel O'Connor


Fat is definitely on the menu over the next few weeks as the Science Gallery at Trinity College celebrates the perhaps unfairly ill-reputed substance.

Fat makes everything taste better, but research is also showing it plays an important role as part of the immune system.

Visitors to the Science Gallery will be able to check out a fat-based experiment installed by celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who will be cooking and serving it up towards the end of exhibition in June. Or, you might try the luxury soap on display. It’s made of human fat.

Fat does not generally get a good press given its associations with bad diet and obesity. However, the Fat: It’s Delicious exhibition which opens tomorrow is not about your weight, says Prof Cliona O’Farrelly, who is co-curating the show with colleague Prof Luke O’Neill, both based at the Trinity Biosciences Institute.

“It is such an amazing set of molecules,” she said. Stored fat is our personal “biobattery” because it is so energy-rich and releases its stored energy when needed. It is an essential component of our dietary mix, but research at Trinity has shown that stored fat produces cells that support the immune system.

Fat: It’s Delicious: - Claire O'Connell interviews curators

People have an inbuilt negative view of fat because of persistent dietary advice against it and they make an immediate connection with obesity, Prof O’Farrelly said. The exhibition is not about this, however, but highlights why we need fat and how we can benefit from it without ignoring the problems that arise from over-consumption of it.

At the event, Thornton described what he was doing with meat and fat - particularly fat - taken from the heads of 24 pigs stewing in a vat of alcohol. He had been interested in participating in the exhibition from its inception, he said. “I like the science aspect of food. I am interested in understanding how the alcohol breaks down the fat over time and what happens to it.”

Don’t expect a full stomach after a visit to the show, however. “Visitors to the exhibition will be getting food for the mind, not food for the body,” said Maria Phelan, research co-ordinator working with the institute and the gallery.

Some of the stands do provide a good imitation of a 1950s US diner, and visitors can sit down at the counter to watch demonstrations. They can also become more than just a visitor by taking part in actual research.

The scientists hope to collect data on BMI, body fat percentage, metabolic rate and other parameters from individuals. This data can feed into research under way at Trinity and Dublin City University, said Prof O’Farrelly.

Eating will attimes be involved on Tuesday evenings during the exhibition, during talks on why donuts taste so good, on the fat in cheese and on healthy chocolate.

Fat: It’s Delicious opens tomorrow and runs until June 29th.

For complete details visit the gallery’s website.