After studying several instances of what we now call “spontaneous human combustion,” French agronomist Pierre-Aimé Lair (1769-1853) discovered that most of the cases involved “corpulent older women with a penchant for drink, thus combining fat and alcohol in a literally explosive mix.” His conclusion:
Thus there is no cause for surprise that old women, who are in general fatter and more given to drunkenness, and who are often motionless like inanimate masses, during the moment of intoxication, should experience the effects of combustion.
I’ve long suspected as much.
Anyway, it’s all there in Christopher E. Forth’s Fat: A Cultural History of the Stuff of Life, which hits bookshelves next month. Until then, you can read all about the black market in human fat over at The Atlantic.