The cooking show Two Fat Ladies revolutionized body positivity

In the first scene of two fat ladies‘ The third season, set in the west of Ireland, a wrong turn on a dirt road leads the show’s stars, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, to chat with a Benedictine nun who is fighting over cattle in an enclosure outside Kylemore Abbey.

When the sister laments waning interest in taking the veil, Dickson Wright declares himself and Paterson “a little worldly” to qualify. The nun, dressed in what appears to be an acid wash denim habit, leans over the fence and squints.

“You have to have been in the world a bit to know what you’re missing,” she says.

Paterson nods, her eyes widening behind her thick lenses: “Otherwise, you might get cravings later,” she says.

I first started watching two fat ladies shortly after graduating from college. Living alone for the first time, in a sweaty little ground-floor studio apartment in a Dupont Circle brownstone in Washington, D.C., I developed a routine: Saturday mornings, I drove my granny cart up to the farmers market at the top of the subway escalators, bought whatever I could get for $20, took it home and turned it into food while watching the hours of the day. cooking shows that local PBS aired on weekend afternoons.

two fat ladies aired as part of that programming block, and technically it was a cooking show. Each week, its stars traveled to a different quintessentially British institution to prepare different quintessentially British dishes for the people who made those institutions work. They roasted a Christmas goose for the Winchester Cathedral boys’ choir and devil’s kidneys for brewers in North Yorkshire, basted kippers for lock keepers on the Welsh-English border and made the Queen’s favorite sandwiches Alexandra for Oxfordshire Cricketers. They fed crews of laborers and hobbyists working in the area’s most important historic settlements with rich, messy food, aiming to provide comfort rather than novelty.

But the real draw of the show was the prodigious patter of its hosts: they argued over directions while cruising the country roads in a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle with a sidecar, stopping occasionally to flirt with the fishermen the best seafood or haggle over local products. In the old kitchens where they were boiling pots in and out of countless Aga ovens, they offered something less like an educational demonstration than a cottagecore cabaret act, roaring with bawdy songs and memories of their own noteworthy feats.

I learned a lot from the show — how to make mayonnaise with a whisk (drip oil), how to peel peaches (dip them briefly in boiling water), how to ensure maximum meat (bard and lard). But what I loved most was the message he sent me about the kind of adult life I could choose to live.

When I started looking two fat ladies in the late 1990s, I was neither thin, nor quiet, nor particularly interested in a life of routine. However, the icons of femininity at my disposal were extremely thin and consenting: model culture was at its peak, threatened only by the even skinnier aesthetic of Kate Moss, and “body positivity” was years away from doing so. part of the vernacular – Americans hadn’t even collectively agreed to celebrate Jennifer Lopez’s butt. sex and the cityThe beginnings of 1998 seemed revolutionary because, at that time, women who based their power on the pursuit of pleasure and adventure were more often reviled than revered.

Before I even knew what the male gaze was, I felt that the Two Fat Ladies didn’t care. Female characters whose size and exuberance didn’t prevent them from enjoying food, sex, and travel seemed groundbreaking to me.

In 1999, the show came to an abrupt end when Paterson died months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. For years, scenes and snippets of his dialogue floated in my mind during nostalgic moments. Unable to find it on cable or any of the streaming services, I purchased the box set in 2014 and was relieved to find that its message still lands; there is no bad time to remember that we all have the right to live a life that will make great stories later.

The show is now syndicated to the Food Network, though people without cable TV can watch somewhat random edited episodes on YouTube. Just under 30 minutes into each episode is one of my favorite parts: the moment just before the credits roll, when the stars finally get up for a cold drink and a chat while others eat their food. They never sat at the table with those lucky ones they cooked for; for the Two Fat Ladies, there was perhaps more freedom — and more fun — in being just a bit outside, sprinkling pixie dust on a magical meal before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

two fat ladies is available to watch on Youtube. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the A good thing archives.