Don’t overreact to meat claims

Vesi Mineva

By Meher Hans, Dulaney High School

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“She’ll have chicken,” my mom says to the Chipotle employee when he asks me what meat I’d like in my burrito. I glance longingly at the carnitas and beef as my mom forces me over to the cash register to pay for my relatively healthy, seemingly cancer-free meal. All I can think about while I eat it is how good carnitas would have tasted.

My mom has always been against red meats and pork; not because cows are sacred in India, but because of health concerns. I could count on one hand the number of times red meat and pork have made it past my mom and into my house.

As a physician, she regularly diagnoses cancer and attends conferences that fuel her fear of red meat. Every conference and diagnosis recharges her. Our grill has never seen beef. Our plates have only served turkey burgers. Our skillets have cooked bacon once, but it was only turkey bacon.

Headlines like “Death by Bacon” and “Red Meat as Dangerous as Smoking” blow the issue out of proportion.”

The recent report released by the World Health Organization on red and processed meats has completely shut the doors of my house to meats besides unprocessed chicken. The report includes findings that meat that has been processed, or preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding chemicals, is a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it is firmly linked to cancer. Red meat, including beef, veal, pork and lamb, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen, meaning it is probably linked to cancer. My once-in-a-blue-moon serving of bacon (turkey bacon) has been ripped out of my hands.

This report shouldn’t terrorize people. Headlines like “Death by Bacon” and “Red Meat as Dangerous as Smoking” blow the issue out of proportion. Over and over again, we’ve been told that moderation is the key. The most manageable and long-lasting diets do not completely cut out unhealthy foods. Rather, they allow for them in smaller quantities.

The media should be telling us to moderate the red meat we eat while keeping in mind that it is carcinogenic. In 2013, the average American ate 71 pounds of beef, lamb, veal and pork. Headlines are telling us we need to change that number to zero.

But that’s not realistic. Red meats are integral to the American identity. When foreigners think of Americans, they picture an overweight person with a hot dog in one hand and a hamburger in the other. It’s not a great image, but it’s undeniable. Most Americans cannot simply stop eating these foods that we love dearly and enjoy. Reports need to emphasize the importance of making manageable changes to our diets rather than warning us of a bacon-induced apocalypse.

My house is the extreme. Recently over dinner, my mother announced that we needed to stop eating Chipotle, even with chicken, because of its processed chicken and recent E. Coli outbreak that caused 50 units to be shut down.

Then she dropped the next bomb: “We should just be vegetarians.”