Just in time for Halloween, The Lancet published a scary article entitled "Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat" in which World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced there is "convincing evidence" that the consumption of processed and red meat increases the risk of cancer in humans. Much side taking, told-you-so-ing, panic, media sensationalism and general freak out ensued but as is usually the case with these sorts of things, cooler heads have begun to prevail now that sensible folks have had a chance to look at the facts.
I don't intend to provide a detailed analysis of the study and its findings. Lots of folks are doing that and a quick google search will turn up more hits than you could ever want to read through.
I do however want to make a few observations from my personal perspective as a "slow meat" farmer, meat shop owner, and mindful omnivore. I'm frustrated by the way this study was released because it makes no distinction between the factory farmed day glow pink preservative drenched products that make up the bulk of the "processed meat" in our food system and the lovingly raised and hand crafted products we are producing here at Urban Digs Farm. To make such blanket statements without qualification seems to me to be a little irresponsible and unfair.
Our sausages, for example, fall into the "processed meat" category. Here's how the ingredients in one of our most popular sausages compares with a popular Maple Leaf sausage:
Maple Leaf: pork, sugar, water, salt, soybeans, wheat, maltodextrin, flavour, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite
Urban Digs: pork, honey, lemon thyme, salt, pepper, vinegar
Our smoked products (bacon, ham, etc) stack up similarly. We do use a small amount of nitrate in most of our smoked products (nitrate free available upon request) but the quantity we use is less than you might find in some leafy green vegetables and nowhere near the amount found in conventionally produced products.
Read more about nitrate in this blog post "The Great "Nitrate Free" Marketing Racket Explained."
This isn't to say that you can overindulge in bacon, sausage and ham as long as you buy it from us. Our "eat less more better" rule still applies. There is far too much meat, and particularly highly processed meat being consumed in this society. But a responsible amount of well-raised, minimally processed meat is good for you and good for the earth too.
I'd like to think that the WHO study is an opportunity for small-scale producers like us. Hopefully it was a wake-up-call for the people who needed one and we'll see an increase in demand for products such as ours. I would like nothing more than to see more farmers and processors moving towards ethical, sustainable and healthy production methods. All it would take for that to happen is a shift in consumer buying habits. There is no down-side to this. Eating less, better quality meat is better for our health and allows animals to be raised in a much more humane, sustainable way.
What do you say? Are you with me? It's time to "eat the change you want to see in the world" and bacon is a great place to start :)
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