Health Canada's announcement this week that it wants quick action to reduce the use of trans fats to a bare minimum recognizes that the stuff is an industrial commodity - not a food product at all - and needs to be regulated on the same basis as any other industrial process.
No surprise, really, that humans who react positively to the natural trans fats in dairy products have trouble assimilating the manufactured trans fats that are unlike anything our species has digested over the last few million years.
It's the beginning of the end of the era of manufactured consent among food regulators. And it's been suspiciously long in coming.
Respected medical journal the Lancet documented the harm done to heart health by this ingredient in 1956. The case against trans fats, which seem to cause double trouble for crud buildup in arteries by reducing "good" cholesterol while increasing "bad" cholesterol, achieved political confirmation when Holland became the first country to require massive reductions of trans fats in margarine in a 1995 law.
Almost a decade later, two years after becoming the first country to require labelling of trans fats in food (companies were given three years to comply), Canada became the second country to require a phase-out. What's the skinny on these major time lags?
Trans fats are often referred to as "hidden" or "stealth" fats because unlike the situation where people knowingly pick a high-fat cheese or cut of meat, trans fats are often ingested by those trying to reduce their animal-based and saturated fats in the hope of keeping their arteries clear.
That's how trans fats snuck up from behind in the decade from 1992 to 2002, when red meat sales in Canada declined by 4 per cent only to be outflanked by a whopping 25 per cent hike in overall fat intake thanks to the camouflage provided by such vegetarian choices as salad oils, cookies, kids' cereals, granola bars, doughnuts and french fries.
Just as hidden is the fact that trans fats are a product - literally - of the industrialization of food. Trans fats were there at the birth of a new species of manufactured food in 1911 when the much-anticipated release of Procter and Gamble's new shortening, Crisco, made headlines across North America.
These were the ragtime days when steel made tall buildings that scraped the sky, Henry Ford perfected mass production of the automobile, the Titanic was a showpiece of new technology, planes started flying and all previous limits on food's artisanship, region and season were becoming as relative as Einstein's time and space.
Makers of Procter and Gamble's soap lines had access to carbon-rich oils and manufacturing technologies to convert them into multiple products. The company also enjoyed access through advertising to housewives, who wanted flaky pie crusts in the days when nothing said loving like something from the oven made with trans fats.
More recently, as home baking became a forgotten art, manufactured trans fats, as opposed to the naturally occurring ones in meat and dairy products, were gobbled up by fast food bakers and restaurants.
Trans fats are the cross-dressers of the fat world, coming from plants but mimicking those of animals. When the space in unsaturated carbon chains is filled with hydrogen atoms bubbling in a vat of oil (thus hydrogenated oils), the oil takes on qualities of saturated fat such as solidity and stability.
The chief virtues of hydrogenated oils - long shelf life for baked goods and consistency during deep-fat frying - are tipoffs that they come from industry rather than nature. Industrial foods are not on the menu of ancient bacteria, which lack the human intelligence to recognize them as foods, so they don't spoil as fast. Nor are fabricated foods as likely to go stale, melt too fast or otherwise show signs of normalcy.
The fed's phase-out directive, which sets up a task force of food biz reps, health associations and academics, overcomes the big fat lie promoted in the course of public health deregulation over the past 30 years, when health regulators slept while the fast food industry took control of the continent's taste buds.
That big whopper of a mistruth involved the mantra about lifestyle, a sound idea spun wrong. It's axiomatic to say that healthy eating and exercise promote health. The spin comes from saying these are personal choices and therefore can't and shouldn't be subject to legislation. Reversing feminists who argued that the personal is political, the dominant public healthists argued that the political is personal.
The fast food industry took control of the airwaves, particularly children's television, of prime real estate in most cities and of prestigious charitable sponsorships, but public health advocates weren't supposed to do anything to guide lifestyles through government policies.
While the long-term significance of the new attempt at regulation for heart health may be controversial - a case can be made that actions to correct under-nourishment among poor children would be more beneficial for more people - there's little doubt that industrial foods are at last being regulated for what they are and aren't.