On the day after the World Health Organization declared that processed meats cause cancer, I ate two strips of bacon with gusto. I thought at first it was simple childish defiance, a you’re-not-the-boss-of–me moment. But, now I think eating that bacon was my acknowledging the end of a lifetime relationship with America’s favorite food.
What’s weird is that I hadn’t eaten bacon in a really long time. I had decided not eat it after I realized I had a bacon addiction. I used to think nothing of chowing down on several strips for breakfast, followed by a BLT at lunch. Pasta with pancetta was more like a staple that an occasional treat. So I went cold turkey; finally the daily craving stopped and the day came when I could inhale the smell of frying bacon without going into a cold sweat. I knew I had kicked the habit when I could eat a breakfast with an egg without longing for its porky sidekick.
And not a minute too soon. The World Health Organization reported its findings after evaluating 800 studies about meat and cancer. WHO linked processed meats like hot dogs and sausages to an 18 percent increased risk of getting colorectal cancers. Researchers said processed meats were in the same group as asbestos and cigarette smoking. Plus WHO said red meats like steak probably caused cancer, though the evidence is not as strong.
I come by my carnivorous habits honestly. As a daughter of the South, I grew up on ham, bacon, hot dogs, and baloney. Not to mention the baby back pork ribs, which are the foundation of the deliciousness that is Memphis barbeque. These were everyday foods for us. And I mean every day. Where I come from, a traditional Southern meal is a MEAT and three sides. Nowadays there are people who only eat the vegetable sides, but I note that even today most restaurants season vegetables with ham hock or Tasso. And anyway, what’s red beans and rice without Andouille sausage?
I guess I’m about to find out because deep down I believe these statistics. I don’t want to, but facts are facts. And yes, I read the analysts who say you’d have to eat double cheeseburgers everyday to be at the risk level the World Health researchers link to cancer. And I have to take note of the agency’s research, which reveals Italians eat a lot of bacon but don’t suffer an increased risk of cancer. But, I think I already ate way more processed meat than the bacon loving Italians.
Actually, the WHO report comes as I’ve almost gone totally over to the dark side—the dark leafy green side. I nearly swooned when I sampled the signature dish at a local fancy greens shop—a salad of curried cauliflower, with quinoa and arugula. Better than bacon.
Right about now I hear the screams of my diehard meat -eating friends. They won’t even consider a restaurant if there’s no meat on the menu. No worries. I don't intend to become that insufferable reformist citing the WHO report at every meal. And, be clear, people. I will never give up barbeque.