In more bad news for voracious carnivores, Harvard Medical School researchers have found that regularly chowing down on red meat decreases life expectancy by a considerable 12 percent. Scientists tracked the diets of 100,000 people over the course of almost 30 years and found that high consumption of red meat was associated with a higher mortality rate. “The study found that cutting the amount of red meat in peoples’ diets to 1.5 ounces (42 grams) a day, equivalent to one large steak a week, could prevent almost one in 10 early deaths in men and one in 13 in women,” reported Rebecca Smith for The Telegraph. The study findings have been welcomed and questioned in pretty much equal measure by the health commentariat.
Meat is rotten. The Harvard study feeds into a long list of previous warnings about eating meat. If you weren’t put off already, the Daily Beast kindly listed seven reasons why we really should avoid eating meat. It reminded that eating red meat can lead to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, salmonella, e.Coli and even mad cow disease. The website reminded that red meat contain antibiotics, steroids, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals and even “pink slime” (a goo made out of waste trimmings previously reserved for dog food and cooking oil). It’s also bad for the environment (livestock, mostly cattle, account for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions). Finally, the site flagged up the inhumane treatment of animals in the food production industry, a problem highlighted in Mark Bittman’s blog for the New York Times, which suggested we all read “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight,” which concludes that “our isolation from killing allows us to tolerate unimaginably cruel practices simply because we don’t see them.” Bittman argued that omnivores must recognise that “our way of producing and eating meat reduces not only slaughterhouse workers but all of us to a warped state.”
But we Brits love meat! Red meat is so central to national identity that “separating an Englishman from his roast beef was never going to be popular” sighed Jeremy Laurance, health editor at the The Independent. He reminded that the French call us “Les Rosbifs”, and have done for about as long as we’ve been calling them “Frogs.”
Misleading statistics. Nicholas Lezard, a literary critic for the Guardian feared that the “understandable innumeracy” of the “extremely casual reader” may lead to the conclusion that “eating a portion of bacon a day gives you a one in five chance of dying that very day.” After all, we are not being given all the facts. The only statistic Rowan Pelling really trusted in the Telegraph is that “being born gives a person a 100 per cent chance of dying,” while Dr Phil Hammond, a GP and comedian writing in The Times pointed out that just because 99 percent of people involved in car crashes are wearing shoes, It doesn’t mean shoes cause car crashes. Karin Klein in the Los Angeles Times ridiculed the “nonsensical finding” that carnivores are more likely to die, even in accidents: “ the only way a hamburger is more likely to cause a fatal accident is if it’s being held in one hand by a driver.”
Big Mac healthier than a roast beef dinner. Jeremy Laurance at The Independent said the latest report reinforces advice from a a government quango called The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which suggested that we should only eat up to 70 grams of red meat a day (about 500 grams a week). The paper measured the amount of meat in various meals and, somewhat surprisingly, concluded that the only one that did not exceed this rule was a McDonald’s Big Mac “because the two “meat patties” it contains are so thin.” An average portion of spaghetti bolognese contains 140 grams of red meat, and a sunday roast contains 90 grams.
Today (14 March) is Steak and Blow-Job Day, the antidote to Valentine’s Day.
Defiant carnivores vs food cranks. The ongoing debate has thrown up some colourful stereotypes. Nicholas Lezard of the Guardian quoted George Orwell, who in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) wrote: “The food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is a person out of touch with common humanity.” This is the kind of aspersion cast by The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), after the latter paid for a billboard campaign across America which warns “Hot Dogs Cause Butt Cancer.” Gawker reported that the Council called the PCRM a “pseudo-medical animal rights group” with the goal of creating “a vegan society.”
Thin end of the wedge? Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian feared this may be “the thin end of a very nasty wedge” and pointed out that NHS trusts are already talking about barring treatment to smokers and the overweight. Next, their “disapproving gaze” may fall upon “imprudent eaters of red meat,” he feared. David Devonshire in The Daily Mail forsaw a time when smokers are “joined on the pavement by office workers clutching illicit bacon butties.”
The dinner party effect: While Jeremy Laurance of The Independent suggested we eat more imaginatively, more like the peoples of the Mediterranean, with meat used “more as a relish than a main ingredient,” Nicholas Lezard of the Guardian feared that the latest findings will inflict upon us “dreary” dinner parties where we will be served “either chicken, fish, or nuts … or, if we are really lucky, a very small portion of grilled red meat, with all the fat cut off.”
More things that can kill you