I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent proclamation by the World Health Organization (WHO) that red meat and processed meat are now in the same category as smoking and asbestos as cancer-causing agents.
In fact, I sat musing on this announcement as I ate a Louisville Dog recently from Red Top Gourmet Hot Dogs. I pondered the red-tinted, all-beef cylinder of meat (grass-fed), slathered with beer cheese and homemade Coney chili (more meat!) inside the pretzel bun carefully. And then I gleefully ate it. (Oh, and do yourself a favor and do get some of the homemade Gates of Hell hot sauce for your dog.)
Three days later, I pondered it again when I ate a medium-rare cheeseburger for lunch. Can we even call them “burgers” anymore after the WHO revelation? Should we call them “cancer sandwiches”? Are hot dogs the new “cancer sticks”? What is bacon’s new name? “Striped death,” perhaps? I don’t mean to be flippant (Who am I kidding? Of course, I do.), but I have to say this: To me, the whole thing smelled like a headline grab. Click-bait, if you will.
Haven’t we known for years that an all-bacon diet might be problematic? That if you sit around munching on hot dogs all day long, you might not be getting the balance you need in your diet?
Meanwhile, unprocessed red meat like steak was classified by the WHO as “probably carcinogenic.” Forgive me if that designation doesn’t scare me straight. That’s like a super-villain being classified as “probably evil.” Besides, how many steaks does one person really need in a week? Or a month, even? Most people treat a steak dinner as a treat, do they not?
And what we may have missed is that just because the report places red and processed meat in the same category, that does not mean it is necessarily as toxic as smoking or snorting asbestos. As CNN.com put it, “The report outlined that simply eating 50 grams of processed meat each day — the equivalent of two slices of ham — can increase the risk of such cancer by 18 percent. However, the authors say the risks are relatively small to begin with.”
As I finished off that tasty Louisville Dog and dabbed at the excess Coney sauce around my mouth with a crumpled napkin, I thought, “How much is too much? And why is the WHO trying to rile everyone up, anyway?”
What I know is that I eat fruit for breakfast just about every day. What happens when we find out blueberries are toxic? What then? I probably should eat more vegetables, but most of the meat I eat is chicken or fish. Fish contains mercury. Salmon is healthful, but eating canned tune every day might cause your nervous system to mutate and for your baby to be born with two heads.
And chicken? Chicken is lean and delicious and usually presumed healthful, but what if those chicken tenders I crave come from chickens raised in tiny cages where those poor birds have no choice but to roll around in each other’s feces? And what if they’re fed so many antibiotics that they’re currently little more than incubators for bacteria that not only will soon become supernatural but also possess a really nasty disposition?
I have to be honest; I’m going to stick with what got me here: moderation. Because how long do I really need to live anyway? Do I really want to be 95? My wonderful, late grandfather, for the last 10 years of his life would, when asked what he’d been up to lately, shrug and say, “Just waiting to die.” He was joking, but he also wasn’t joking. It should be noted that the man ate fried eggs and processed breakfast meat every day for about eight decades.
My point is that life is short, and a life spent worrying about everything isn’t much of a life, in my eyes. So, pass the bacon, please — but only about one day a week. (Or maybe two.)