Ah, So *That’s* Where The Fat Went!

A rack of ribs; a leg of lamb;
A turkey roast; a marbled ham;
The fat? We’d gladly eat it!
The drippings from the roasting pan
We use for gravy, quite by plan—
For flavor, you can’t beat it.

But now, our culture’s seen a change
And eating fat is more than strange
When folks are on a diet
Though sugar may be worse by far
Fat gets the blame, so people are
Reluctant, now, to try it

In vain attempts to be more svelte,
The fat we hate, we simply melt
And pour it down the sink
Where does it go? It goes “away”
And more than that, we cannot say
Because we do not think.

The fat collected as we cook?
It’s down the drain, without a look;
Our thoughts end with our meals
But in the sewers, fat gets cold;
Beneath our streets, we now are told
It naturally congeals

A city’s worth of melted lard
Starts cooling down and turning hard
We know what comes of that:
Stalagmites of a lipid sort,
And one, we hear by last report,
That’s fifteen tonnes of fat

Of course, there’s much that we can do
To help prevent these bergs of goo,
The sewer gods explain:
It’s time for people to begin
When cutting fat, to toss it in
The bin, not down the drain!

A Thames Water press release has a very practical warning, illustrated by an extraordinary discovery. The warning? Don’t pour melted fat down your drain (they make this plea each year during the holiday season, I hear, when so many families simultaneously dump the fat from a roast turkey, ham, or yak, down the drain), because it will congeal and clog your pipes.

The discovery? A fifteen ton tonne “fatberg” (pic at the link–worth seeing):

“Given we’ve got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we’ve encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history.
“The sewer was almost completely clogged with over 15 tonnes of fat. If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.
“It was so big it damaged the sewer and repairs will take up to six weeks.

Nearby residents were unable to flush their toilets, and the investigation led to the fatberg’s discovery.

Remind me, next Thanksgiving, to thank the people whose job it is to go down into the sewers in such cases of emergency. 15 tons of rancid fat is, frankly, nasty, but when the system is working perfectly these people are going down into the sewers to check on a city’s worth of waste.

So consider this a public service announcement: Next time you cut the fat from your dinner, dispose of it in the trash, not down the drain. Or do what I do, and cook with it, eat it eagerly, and enjoy it immensely.

(Cuttlecap tip to Ed Yong, via twitter.)


  1. leni says

    I grew up in the eighties and the north but bacon fat still got saved in one can for like a day or so, the rest of it got drained and saved in another can and that can got tossed in garbage when it was mostly full.

    Also I’m like maybe the shittiest cook ever. Sad.

  2. Aliasalpha says

    As if I didn’t already have body image issues, now they’re photoshopping naked photos of me into pictures of london sewers!

  3. left0ver1under says

    Who would pour grease down a drain? Never mind the consequences of the sewer system, how about the grease build-up and smell around the kitchen sink? I used to pour it into a tin can and toss the can once per week, but I don’t cook with grease or oil much anymore.

    If you really want to see something disgusting try this:


    See that grey and plastic bin on the left in the first picture? I lived in Seoul for a few years, and those bins are in every back alley. You’re supposed to dump leftover food in them. Since they’re outside in the ambient temperature with rotting food in them, you can only begin to imagine the smell. The bins are almost never that clean.

    Seoul has gone so far as to start measuring how much food you throw away, both to reduce waste and make people pay for their own trash by weight. With tags on the bags, your waste can be tracked back to your home.


  4. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Am I the only one who thinks that fatberg is quite picturesque? I can imagine archeologists of the distant future scratching their noggins over what would essentially be a protein-filled stalactite.

    Anyhow, the point I want to make is; just because not everybody eats fat doesn’t mean they should just dump it in the rubbish. If you don’t want to use it for your own purposes, pour your unwanted fats* into a tub, each time adding a handfull or so of seeds and grains, and when said tub is full and the fat set solid, put on a pair of latex (or similar if you have allergies) gloves and fashion the fat into cricket ball (baseball) sized balls and put them outside for the wild birds, either in a wire feeder or on a table, even a windowsill or ledge if you have no garden. It makes a highly nutritious food which they will really appreciate, especially in the colder months when food is harder to come by.

    *But NOT fat that has been heavily salted, such as processed bacon fats, as birds cannot process salt; I believe it’s a poison to them even in relatively small quantities.

  5. Cuttlefish says

    An excellent suggestion, AoS–I have also had friends who have collected fat from others for use in hand-making soap. And of course, restaurants typically have great, nasty maggot-infested drums of used fat that are collected for use in… I dunno, school lunches, or porn, or something. Maybe soap again, or biofuels.

    Hearing tales of grandparents eagerly devouring rich slabs of ham or beef fat (along with the meat, of course), I wonder just how fat use per capita has changed over the generations.

  6. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Hearing tales of grandparents eagerly devouring rich slabs of ham or beef fat (along with the meat, of course),

    I still do just that; when I cook a ham or bacon joint I always pick one with a thick layer of fat; it’s delicious warm with pickles. When my kids were still at home (and even now, if they’re visiting when I’m cooking one) I used to cut the warm fat into thin strips and the kids would quite literally flock around me like baby birds being fed worms.

    Oh, the stuff from restaurants generally goes to pig farms, though school lunches cannot be ruled out nowadays.

  7. Cathy W says

    As a wastewater professional, I can’t stress this enough. If it doesn’t simply clog your drain or congeal into a 15-ton “fatberg” in the pipes, it gets all the way to the wastewater treatment plant, where fat, oil, and grease will gum up the works in a great many…umm…interesting ways. At a bare minimum it’s one more thing that has to be removed, which increases your sewer bill.

    More spectacularly…. one summer the oil in the wastewater coming into my workplace caused an overgrowth of a particular microorganism in the aeration decks (nocardia, specifically) that caused the activated sludge to foam. Really foam. Really seriously foam. Our biomass overflowed the tanks and appeared to be making a break for the main road. It was like we were under attack by The Blob, for most of that summer. Your cooking fat is like candy to The Blob. Please don’t feed The Blob.

    …in my house, cooking fat goes into a can, absolutely, no exceptions, yeah.

  8. Francisco Bacopa says

    We should be saving and recycling our fat for the war effort, like in WWII. Also, there used to be this guy who was interested collecting fat for his boutique soap company. I hadn’t seen him in a while and when I did I hasked him why he wasn’t collecting fat anymore. He said he found a better source, I think his name was Tyler or something like that .

  9. Joan says

    I cannot save my cooking fat
    It’s from a spray can. So that’s that.
    It’s corn or flaxseed oil, I guess.
    Both are quite tasteless, I confess.
    Mom’s bacon fat can’t be replaced
    For lovely down home salty taste
    But sadly that stuff clogs the tubes.
    Our arteries don’t need the lubes.
    I ‘spose it’s good, we’re eating smart.
    Don’t want stalactites in my heart,

  10. Cuttlefish says

    Remember, Joan, the nasty fats in your blood are triglycerides, which are produced in the liver as it breaks down fructose. Healthy fats are not the enemy (yay!).

  11. machintelligence says

    Hearing tales of grandparents eagerly devouring rich slabs of ham or beef fat (along with the meat, of course), I wonder just how fat use per capita has changed over the generations.

    I encountered an old cookbook that recommended “larding ” of wild meat such as venison and even showed a tool used to insert strips of fat into roasts.

  12. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Who would pour grease down a drain?

    Idiots and those too young to understand. Grease is incredibly bad to pour in drains, but there are also 10,000 other incredible things people (at least attempt to) put in drains.

  13. says

    Rivers and arteries–neither can function
    When slogged and clogged by extreme unction
    Dumped into them with little compunction.

    Our septic system’s greatest sin
    Is to have greases poured within
    That should be sent to the garbage bin.

    And where does that crud end up going?
    To landfills, tracts of earth a-flowing
    With rancid flammable fats a-glowing.
    (“I’m fat, I’m fat,” Weird Al was crowing.)

    Fat ravages both water and soil.
    Perhaps it could be fuel, like oil,
    Then only the air we will despoil.

    And what we eat our bodies shed,
    Making manure unfit to spread
    To fertilize your flower bed.

    So leave fat where it grows a-right,
    In the pigs and cows that you don’t bite.
    Vegetarians of the world, unite!

  14. says

    I can’t figure out why anyone would drain fat down the sink when there is a perfectly good bowl of dried doggie kibble right there next to the dogasaurus with the humongous puppy eyes. Do they like making him sad?

  15. Robert B. says

    Hm. I was taught, if it’s solid at room temperature or close to it (meat grease, butter, shortening) chill it and put it in the trash so it won’t clog the pipes, but if it’s liquid at room temperature (cooking oils) pour it down the drain so it won’t leak out of the garbage bag. (In practice I use the solid stuff instead of tossing it – I start my mac and cheese with a bacon grease roux, for example. Screw Kraft, I can make my own unhealthy food.) But Cathy W, you seem to imply that any sort of nonpolar organic coming your way will tend to get you eaten by the blob. What should I do with, say, spent frying oil, which won’t solidify and which I presume isn’t appetizing to dogs and birds? (Aside from filtering it and reusing it – that only works so many times.)

  16. says

    It’s not even the home cooking grease that’s the worst offal. It’s the deep frying in restaurants that sends out rancid oil by the barrel and by the vat to dumpsters and then to pollute the world. Surely it’s time to recycle intelligently. Incidentally,

    Each Christmas time I roast a goose,
    And jars of goose grease they produce
    Which while it lasts I spread on bread,
    A delicacy, it is said.
    “Schmalzbrot” is my favorite treat
    That as a snack I love to eat.

  17. says

    In related news, the Fatberg has been relocated to the Palace of Westminster, where it is reported that Prime Minister Cameron has offered it a cabinet position.

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