After the World Health Organization released the report on the relationship between processed meat and cancer diseases, I just flipped my eyes, it gave me the chills and I calculated I just have 5 years left to wonder and eat everything I can…
The case is that the chances of developing colorectal cancer increase in 18% if you don’t balance your consumption of processed meat. Something weird to me since we have heard for so long that meat makes you smarter and develops your body and brain tissue.
Does this mean we’ve been tricked? If so, who has taken advantage of us? Who would want to do this and why? Why let us know now? What have we been eating for all these year?
And then I started asking myself, could the human body live healthy without a meat-based diet? Would this report eager people to change their diets? What does this mean in a longer term? Risk Analysts, environmental specialist and vegetarian Caitlin Reid tells us.
JDMC: Do you think meat is vital to maintain a balanced diet?
CR: No, it is definitively not vital to eat meat to maintain a balanced diet. There are many parts of the world where vegetarian diets are the norm, and we have not seen a great sweep of malnutrition consume the western world as the vegetarian diet has become normalized and accessible. A number of MMA fighters are even vegan.
Because the mainstream American diet typically caters to a meat-based diet, and so do many of our traditional foods, many people switching to a vegetarian diet for the first time, experience a type of food-based culture shock.
JDMC: Is it dangerous to switch drastically from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian one?
CR: If they don’t figure out how to recalibrate their diet appropriately, these people can sometimes experience health issues, but health issues are certainly not the domain of vegetarianism. Cheetos are vegetarian, but eating tons of Cheetos is clearly not healthy – whether or not you’re a vegetarian. Growing up vegetarian I sometimes had to get creative in order to eat well when I went to friend’s houses, but now it’s very easy and affordable to be a healthy vegetarian.
JDMC: When did you stop consuming meat on a regular basis and why did you do so?
CR: I stopped eating meat entirely when I was 7 years old. I always had a focus on the cleanliness and ethics of my food. I stopped eating bologna and hot dogs before I stopped eating meat entirely (and I LOVED bologna and hot dogs).
My memory of why I ultimately became a vegetarian is sometime when I was 6 I came across a PETA pamphlet talking about cruelty to foxes, and I asked my mom about it. Though she wasn’t a vegetarian, she gave me thoughtful and realistic information about where meat comes from, and why some people were upset about animal rights issues.
I asked my mom if I could stop eating meat, and after a visit to my pediatrician (who it turns out was also vegetarian) my mom ok’d it (and was flexible enough to accommodate me – she cooked most of our meals, and without her support this wouldn’t have been feasible).
I then went back and forth a few times between being vegetarian and eating meat (it was not easy being vegetarian in the Midwest in the early 90’s), but sometime after my 7th birthday I stopped eating meat entirely. When I first became vegetarian it was definitely for animal rights reasons, but at this point I’m a vegetarian for many diverse reasons.
JDMC: Do you think that WHO’s report will change humanity’s diet?
CR: I do not think that this report is going to result in a huge and sudden shift in people’s diets. However, I see this as contributing to a market shift, wherein it may lead to a greater demand for meat alternatives.
In the last 22 years I’ve seen a dramatic and wonderful improvement in vegetarian foods – most meat alternatives used to be truly disgusting – and with better options come better accessibility for people to maintain a vegetarian diet.
The WHO report does not provide definitive answers about the carcinogenic risk of eating meat, but it does provide people with a lot of information that they can use to make decisions about how they eat. I think this is an important time for this type of study to be released, as people around the world have unprecedented access to information while demand for meat is growing in a number of regions as cheap meat becomes more available.
The WHO report will likely start discussions in people’s homes and communities, and give weight to the idea that consuming large quantities of meat (especially cheap, processed meat) is not the “healthy” choice.
Caitlin Reid is from Michigan and graduated from the Climate and Society masters program of Columbia University. Ask your own questions by adding a comment bellow.