Bacon or a Marbloro?

October 26, 2015

So it seems the Guardian, NPR, CNN, Yahoo and every other purveyor of news is reporting the WHO classification of processed meat (bacon, sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, cold cuts) as revelatory and/or “breaking” new. And perhaps it is now that bacon is being classifed by the WHO on the same level as cigarettes.

But, as far as I can tell, this has been in the medical literature and reported for many years, maybe more than a decade or two. I was just having this conversation with my wife last week, and I know back when I adapted (with a slip weekend or two) my diet to exclude most red meat, processed meat and high sodium food–for BP and heart, but I was aware of the colorectal cancer issues as that’s what my father died of) that most meta-analysis shows processed meats as comparable to cigarettes.

Of course, the question is correlation as well as consumption level. As it is so hard to crunch numbers to  prove direct correlation, you enter the guesswork field the very minute you try to establish a universal law. Person A may smoke 2 packs a day for 60 years and die of natural causes while person B might develop lung cancer after 10 years and a cessation of 10. Genetics, environmental factors and sheer luck play more of a role in most health issues than we would like to admit. But, if one is to speak in stark lines the best estimate I have read equates the effect of 6 cigarettes as roughly equal to 1 strip of bacon in terms of how it affects one’s overall heart and colorectal cancer health, particularly past a certain age.

But look…processed meat and most red meat are just not good for you. We’ve known this for many years and I’ve read this in many a medical study long before today’s WHO news extravaganza. It’s really a matter of trade-offs. I’ve never seen social media or news comment threads spark off in defense of an alleged perpetrator like they do over bacon…not with alcohol or tobacco, certainly not with drugs (okay maybe pot). People seem to love their bacon in an irrational over the top way–maybe because, as long as they’re Christian (not Muslim, Jewish or Hindus) their scriptures don’t condemn it. I’m not sure if this started as an ironic kind of stance or what, but people meme bacon like it is Jesus. If you love it that much, eat it. I can honestly take it or leave it. It’s good occasionally but I can empathize with you because I dissect every alcohol or tobacco story for the specific details because I love scotch and cigars in moderation. But I’ll leave my bacon at the store unless the recipe just demands it because I can find hundreds of other foods worth eating that are good for me and I’ll leave that trade-off in favor when possible.

Really though….my question is, will a surgeon’s general warning now go on cold cuts, Subway sandwiches and bacon? It’s important that the public has the facts so they can make educated decisions on what they eat, drink, smoke, etc. But how much of an effect do those facts have, particulalry when so many conflicting stories emerge? I think the case with processed and red meats is pretty airtight though–it may not cause cancer in everyone but over a minimal limit it has bad health effects in most folks. It won’t get you high, curb your stress or chill you out but it may give you peace as a comfort food (and give you the meat sweats) but if eating bacon improves your life that much you make that choice.


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