We have heard a lot about the report from the World Health Organisation earlier this week which revealed there is a correlation between red meat consumption – and even more so, processed meat consumption – and some forms of cancer.
Many have expressed shock and surprise at how bacon or sausages, to mention two examples of processed meat, could be classified in the same way as cigarettes and asbestos.
But this does not come as a surprise to those who have been following the food scene over the past few years. Scientists, doctors and epidemiologists have been warning about over consumption of red meat for years. And many of the world’s best chefs have been moving towards giving vegetables a more central role in their cuisine. Influencers like Slow Movement Founder Carlo Petrini and writer Michael Pollan have been advocating eating less meat and more vegetables.
They might not have been doing so for the reasons highlighted in the WHO report but rather because it was evidently more healthy to eat less red meat.
So what is new about the report? What we know for sure is that red meat is likely to be carcinogenic and processed meat like frankfurters, sausages and canned meat are carcinogenic.
The founder of the Slow Food movement Carlo Petrini is of the view that we should indeed eat less meat (and of a better quality) but he also warned against scaremongering in an article he wrote on the Slow Food website.
He says that warning people not to eat bacon or sausages is over simplifying the problem and is not enough. “Even WHO itself is at pains to point out that the fact is that it’s all a matter of quantities. So we have to be careful how we tread here, since cheap scaremongering would be pointless as well as stupid.”
Petrini says that many world organisations have been speaking about the need to reduce meat consumption over the past years. This was done not only for the sake of human health but also the use of natural resources which are often overused to produce meats. “This goes hand in hand with the quality of the meat that ends on our tables: quality in terms of food safety and also the impact on the environment.”
Petrini says that the production of meat in the world is growing exponentially and this is leading to the pursuit of quick-fire solutions and shortcuts which are not good for public health and the environment. He cites for example the massive use of antibiotics to prevent disease from breaking out and too much excrement to be used as manure because there are no fields to fertilise as the animals live locked in cages and bars to optimise space.
“We need to reduce our consumption and diversify our diets by returning to types of vegetable protein that can easily and effectively replace that from animals. We also need to give preference to the food products least subject to huge supplements of additives, preservatives, sweeteners and coloring agents, substances which, often unbeknown to us or as a result of our own carelessness or neglect, are to all intents and purposes part and parcel of our diets,” Petrini says.
The Slow Food Movement founder says that the WHO study may actually have a strong impact on people, who at long last are hearing the highest public health authority making its case on a consumer product as widespread and popular as meat.
“Consuming less meat is good for our health, it’s good for the environment and it’s good for animals. Hysteria about the fact would only lead us in the wrong direction again, causing us to miss out on a huge opportunity to teach ourselves to eat and, more generally, to consume better. The study published this week offers us yet another chance to stress how sobriety, diversification and awareness are the lights that can guide us to a more mature, informed and respectful approach to food. Otherwise, it’ll just turn out to be the umpteenth storm in a teacup,” he says.
What it all boils down to is moderation and good sense. Are we ready to turn this into an opportunity?