News Ian O'Doherty

Saturday 22 October 2016

Worried eating meat will give you cancer? Then you should visit your local butcher

Published 28/10/2015 | 02:30

Consumers have become so used to being told that the things they once enjoyed are now the very things that will kill them, that most people now feel confusion rather than alarm
Consumers have become so used to being told that the things they once enjoyed are now the very things that will kill them, that most people now feel confusion rather than alarm

When the World Health Organisation released its latest dire warnings about the foods that will kill us, most people either shrugged their shoulders or scratched their head.

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After all, everybody has become so used to apocalyptic warnings about every day activities that we tend to take such warnings with a large pinch of salt which, ironically, would also be in breach of the advice.

WHO's claims on Monday that processed meats can cause bowel cancer, with red meat a particular concern, were greeted with widespread bemusement and more than a soupcon of derision.

Apparently, the risk of cancer posed by bacon, ham, hot dogs and sausages is so great that they have now been classed as 'Group 1' items, alongside such well known carcinogens as cigarettes, asbestos and diesel fumes.

Consumers have become so used to being told that the things they once enjoyed are now the very things that will kill them, that most people now feel confusion rather than alarm.

After all, the health benefit/damage caused by butter seems to change on a weekly basis while even the scientists who are paid to know better can't seem to form a consensus on whether one glass of red wine a day will kill you or help you live longer.

The farming industry (somehow 'Big Beef' doesn't have quite the same sinister connotations as Big Pharma or Big Tobacco) has been quick to react with predictable fury to the potential threat to its livelihood, and the North American Meat Institute was quick to point out that: "Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed and found to pose some level of theoretical 'hazard'. Only one substance, a chemical in yoga pants, has been declared not to cause cancer."

That's good news, indeed, for devotees of yoga. But in a culture of fear where everything from the air you breathe to the time you spend outside in the sun can be a clear and present danger to your health, it's no surprise that this survey has become a rather unexpected lightning rod for public anger at these reports which seem to want to eradicate even the most simple joys of life.

WHO is closely linked to the United Nations, of course, and that ultimate quango has long been arguing for a meat-free diet so observers have been quick to argue that the report seems to be miraculously, and conveniently, in line with current UN teachings.

But as much we may mock these reports, and we should mock them at every available opportunity, this one may have unwittingly stumbled upon something rather important - the complete disconnect that now exists between consumers and the food we eat.

Sure, it's easy to say that they will have to pry our bacon butties from our cold, dead, greasy hands but it shouldn't take some 'experts' from the World Health Organisation, or its subsidiary body, the International Agency for Research into Cancer, to force us to confront our eating habits.

That we now have an obesity 'epidemic' is widely accepted, although the parameters for obesity often seem ludicrously open to interpretation.

There are, of course, numerous reasons for this problem and not all of them are related to our diet.

For instance, it's easy to blame kids for becoming obese, but when we live in a society where it's easier for them to spend hours playing FIFA on their PlayStation in their bedroom rather than kicking an actual football around the streets with their mates, and when concerns over child safety mean fewer kids are walking or cycling to school than ever before, it should hardly come as a surprise that we're raising an entire generation of children just waiting for a heart attack when they get older.

But while changing social trends and attitudes have led to a more sedentary life where opportunities for physical activity are much more limited than in previous decades, that shouldn't be an excuse for the amount of rubbish we joylessly shovel into our gaping gobs.

Processed meats, for example, may or may not actually give you cancer, but they're certainly not doing you any good.

For starters, meat should at least look like it came from an animal.

But as people become more dislocated from their environment, anything that looks like it was once part of a living creature is viewed with suspicion and disgust. That's why the average packet of processed lunch meat comes in a colour and shape that bears no relation to the source product and even the regular meat sections in the average supermarket resemble row after row of shrink-wrapped, pink bubblegum rather than something that used to be a leg or a shoulder.

For all our increased awareness of the myriad dangers of the food we eat, we're actually far more ignorant about our diet than our parents were and the old excuse of 'convenience' or price simply doesn't wash.

If WHO had really wanted to contribute something meaningful to the debate, rather than release a half-cocked study which has already been shredded by the scientific community, it could have reminded people that their best option is to simply frequent their local butcher.

It's cheaper and better to source your meat from your local meat monger and it's cheaper to make a stew for a family of four than it is to buy four pre-cooked, convenience food dinners which feature mystery meat covered in a luminous sauce.

So, if you're really concerned about your diet, why not support your local butcher?

It's better for the pocket and gut and, crucially, the meat you eat will actually have some flavour. Who can argue with that?

Irish Independent

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