The other day I happened to be in a KFC restaurant with my teen-aged son, waiting to pick up an order to go. It’s a newer store, nicely decorated, but there were only three or four people actually dining in.

Which made it almost impossible to ignore one younger customer, a 20-something who was sitting down with what looked to be a three-piece meal. That’s not remarkable, but what he did next was.

First, he spread out half a dozen napkins on the table. Then, he used another couple napkins to peel the breaded skin off the chicken piece and pull out the bones. He then pressed the remaining breast meat between layers of napkins before using a fork to pick at what was left.

Not my idea of how to enjoy fried chicken, but it was obvious what was going on: He was doing everything possible to avoid eating any fat whatsoever.

That phobia is an unfortunate hangover from the decades of fat shaming perpetrated by the Nutrition Establishment, that self-anointed cohort of dietary authorities responsible for creating a fear among the public that eating fat not only makes you fat, but inevitably results in a slew of deadly diseases.

That meme is slowly undergoing a reluctant revision, as evidenced by a few of the pro-veggie doctor-consultants who make no bones about being vegetarians. A good example is Dr. Michael Greger, who’s technically a general practitioner specializing in nutrition but whose website describes him as a “physician, speaker and New York Times best-selling author.”

I don’t question his medical credentials, but I wonder about his clinical priorities, as his home page is totally devoted to commerce. Visitors have the option of forking over $500 for the complete set of the “Latest in Clinical Nutrition, Vols. 1-33,” or perhaps a more budget-friendly DVD titled, “How Not to Die” for only $10 (shipping, handling and applicable taxes not included).

Meat vs. Marshmallows
In an article on the foodie website Thrillist.com that quoted him extensively, Greger acknowledged that, contrary to the motivation of that KFC diner, lean meats aren’t any healthier than fatty meats when it comes to the risk of developing coronary heart disease. The article even referenced a major 2010 paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which concluded that, “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD” (coronary heart disease and coronary vascular disease, respectively).

You might assume such a definitive conclusion ends the argument, right?

Wrong.

That’s because Greger, et al, don’t quibble with letting saturated fat off the hook as being no worse than other fats — they argue instead that meat itself is the problem.

“People say that lean meat is better for you because of saturated fat, but that’s like saying, ‘We do sugar-free marshmallows’ or something,” the article quoted him as saying. “That’s better, but still, marshmallows aren’t great.”

See what he did there? Equating meat with marshmallows, which nobody, but nobody, considers part of an everyday diet.

In fact, Greger and those aligned with his dietary persuasion quickly dismiss sat fat’s not-guilty verdict by indicting all red meat. Even while acknowledging that previous versions of the Dietary Guidelines misled Americans into believing that a low-cholesterol, low-fat (and by default, a high-carb) diet is the road to nutritional nirvana, they excoriate USDA for not boarding the vegetarian bandwagon.

When it comes to federal guidelines, it’s about politics and commercial corruption,” Greger said. “USDA’s purpose is to promote an agricultural product and promote public health. So when those two go together, as with fruits and vegetables, there's no conflict. But they can't come out and say ‘Eat less meat and junk food,’ because it’s so politically unpalatable.”

No, Dr. G. What’s unpalatable is the idea that all meat is bad, and that we should all be obtaining the essential saturated fats needed in our diets from tropical foods. Because a quick review of the plant-based sources of dietary saturated fat (the “good fat,” according to vegetarian proponents) shows that the leading sources are Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias and avocados.

For the three billion people living in temperate climates? Good luck convincing yourselves you’re consuming a diet of locally grown foods if those are your sources of dietary fat.

And that’s the fatal flaw in the anti-animal food activists’ philosophy. To follow their reasoning, which they argue is based on logic and common sense, one must abandon the most logical approach to dietary choices — the one that humanity’s been following for millennia.

Eat what you can grow, cultivate or raise where you live.

As that vintage commercial used to proclaim, anything less would be uncivilized.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.