Friday 21 October 2016

Carol Hunt: Red meat's out? Better drop fish and chicken too

Roast beef on cutting board with saltcellar and pepper mill
Roast beef on cutting board with saltcellar and pepper mill

Talk about a Halloween nightmare. We were at the local supermarket yesterday trying to choose meals for the next few days and no matter what manner of combination we put together, something in it was going to kill us. Eventually.

A nice bit of bacon? Are you crazy? The World Health Organisation (WHO) this week released a report which puts bacon and sausages into the same category as smoking and asbestos for causing cancer.

They've looked at 800 studies from countries all over the world and are adamant that processed meat - even two slices of ham a day - increases your risk of colon cancer by 18pc.

Well then, how about a nice fresh fillet steak, free from all preservatives? Nope, all red meat - even if it's fresh from a cow that gets a feather pillow and a lullaby going to bed every night - probably causes cancer as well, say the WHO.

Forget the spirits of the dead roaming the earth next Saturday night, this is really scary news.

Some were not ready to give up the bacon or the beef yet however.

"I stopped smoking. I even stopped drinking. But you're going to have to take my beef, my bacon, and my hamburgers out of my cold dead hands", tweeted a devoted carnivore in the wake of the news.

Inevitably, smug vegetarians are only delighted to able to say they told us so.

So no bacon for my carnivore kids. But what can I feed them? I have often suggested that we follow a vegetarian diet and I've even shown them those videos of what goes into chicken nuggets and how foie gras is made.

But nothing has worked. The idea of surviving purely on veggies horrifies them.

Anyway, as my eldest is quick to point out, chemical fertilisers and all manner of carcinogenic pesticides are used to grow the fruit and veg that we find in our local stores.

We can't all afford to buy organic and even if we could what guarantee do we have that the produce we buy is really free from pesticides and chemicals?


As well as depriving my kids of much-needed vitamins and iron, I'd also be exposing them to the risk that they will develop allergies, and illnesses from chemicals in vegetables that have been linked to cancer in both children and adults.

Who knew that a leaf of spinach or a floret of broccoli could be potential killers?

Well then, what about a nice roast chicken? Forget it. We know that many chickens we eat today are full of antibiotics and hormones, and yet our need for cheap food means we still buy them.

A lovely piece of fresh fish? Nope, you'd be mad to risk it. Our seas and rivers are horribly polluted and fish are consuming these chemicals and cancer-causing agents.

We then eat the dodgy fish, effluent is discharged back into the sea and the whole pollution cycle continues.

It would seem that if want to reach old age without polluting our bodies we'd better stick to drinking water and give up food altogether. Except of course - apart from the fact that we need food to survive - the water we drink could kill us off altogether.

Apart from the excessive lead levels recently found in the supply to many Irish homes, the water in our taps can also contain chemicals like chlorine, arsenic and mercury. Nasty stuff.

And we haven't even begun to discuss sugar, saturated fats, and all those terrifying 'E' numbers.

Pretty much everything we eat would seem to be bad for us - or cause some form of cancer.

So what do we do? Obviously we should cut down on the fat, sugar and alcohol and eat so-called 'bad' foods in moderation. But the problem is that last year's 'bad' food could become this years super-food - look at the recent rehabilitation of the humble egg.

Are we to forgo its breakfast companion, the bit of bacon? Can we do that? In the nation that invented the 'Irish Breakfast' what would there be left to live for?

"Devastating that scientists say bacon causes cancer and we face the fact that we have to give up science", said one wit on Twitter. As a committed carnivore, I agree. Pass the bacon.

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