Processed Meats: Seeing the Whole Picture

A report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) has caused people to look more carefully at the types of meat they are eating. WHO states that processed meats can cause cancer. You can read the whole report here.

This recent revelation has put a giant red X on food that is loved by many. These “foods” and I use quotes, because I never saw a hot dog as a viable food product, include the aforementioned hot dog, bacon, cold cuts, sausages, baloney, and salami.

So what determines if meat is processed or not? Simply put, if additives like salt and preservatives were added to it. I would argue that the “processing” of meat begins long before the animal is slaughtered. If you look into the types of feed, pesticides, and injections they are putting into these animals, which is then compounded by further processing post slaughter, it makes sense why agribusiness food production is causing cancer.

I believe the WHO report is important, but what is equally, if not greater in importance, is realizing the whole problem, not just one part of it. To say processed meats cause cancer is great, but let’s go back and see where the problem really starts.

It starts at the farm. 

With the acceptance of food production on a massive scale, food has become just that, a production. Agriculture has mutated into agribusiness. It is no longer wholesome, real, as found in its natural form. It is instead genetically modified, and catered to maximizing profits. Implementing an industrialized food production model, borrowed almost exactly from the likes of  General Motors, or Ford, have been applied to how milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, beef, almost all food items, are mass-produced. We have phased out the family farm, replacing these people with suits (Entourage reference anyone?) who understand one thing, the bottom line. I’ll be honest with you, they really don’t care about your well-being, they only care about how much money they can make exploiting your desire to eat.

We must bring back the farmer, the caring, hard-working individual, who was connected with the earth, understood nutrition and worked hard to give us clean produce. It was all about the quality. About understanding that the soil, the environment, the feed, and humane treatment of animals led to better tasting milk, fresher fruits and vegetables, and meat that was free from cancer causing agents. Dan Barber does a great job explaining this idea through his amazing TED talk.

It extends to our dinner tables and our understanding of food

I would love to go back in time and find out when a chicken nugget became an acceptable food item. When did we say no to real chicken, and yes to chucks of processed chicken fat?  I think it came down to trading quality for convenience. The same goes for hot dogs or sandwich meats. It is the ease that comes with making a meal with relatively no effort. The fact that hunger can be relinquished with a lifeless piece of meat, shaped in a perfect circle, on the grill, ready to be eaten in less than 10 minutes. How can you beat that?

With education. 

The more I educate myself on the types of foods I am eating. Where it comes from, who grew it, where was it grown, how it was grown, what are the health benefits of choosing one type of food vs another, has helped me become a conscious eater. This knowledge allows me to focus on quality, long-term health effects, and substance of what I am putting into my mouth. This leads me to the last topic, balance.

Balancing desire with nutrition. 

There are going to be days when you want a hot dog, or a Twinkie, or a big juicy steak, and that is perfectly fine. I am against the notion that we have to become extremists in everything. If I’m going to love hot dogs I am going to love the crap out of them and eat them and feed them to my children, and compete in hot dog eating competitions, because I LOVE FREAKING HOT DOGS. Or the other side, I hate hot dogs and I will NEVER EVER eat it and I will hate on everyone who does eat them pointing and yelling the fact that they are eating cancer sticks!

I hate extreme thinking. There needs to be a lot less of it in this world, and more focus on balance. This includes balancing what and how you eat. You want to eat some processed food, go for it, but limit it to once a month, maybe getting it down to a couple of times a year. Balance leads to a sustainable life. It leads to you being able to eat what you want, but limits you from eating it all the time.

-Omar M

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Check out more great articles and resources, especially some great TED talks I have posted here.

Thanks for reading!

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