A century later, many people still haven't heard the news.
December 30, 2013
In a recent
NPR debate about the risks of meat-eating, I put forward the proposition
that meat causes cancer. Judging by faces in the audience, this was a new idea.
While everyone understands the link between cancer and cigarettes, the link with
meat has somehow escaped notice.
I cited two enormous studies--the 2009 NIH-AARP study, with half a million
participants, and a 2012 Harvard study with 120,000 participants. In both
studies, meat-eaters were at higher risk of a cancer death, and many more
studies have shown the same thing.
How does meat cause cancer? It could be the heterocyclic amines--carcinogens
that form as meat is cooked. It could also be the polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons or the heme iron in meat, or perhaps its lack of fiber and paucity
of antioxidants. But really the situation is like tobacco. We know tobacco
causes lung cancer, even though no one yet knows exactly which part of the
tobacco smoke is the major culprit. And although meat-eaters clearly have higher
cancer rates, it is not yet clear which part of meat does the deed.
The tragedy is this: The link between meat and cancer has been known for more
than a century. On September 24, 1907, the New York Times published an article
Increasing among Meat Eaters," which described a seven-year epidemiological
study showing that meat-eaters were at high cancer risk, compared with those
choosing other staples. Focusing especially on immigrants who had abandoned
traditional, largely planted-based, diets in favor of meatier fare in the U.S.,
the lead researcher said, "There cannot be the slightest question that the great
increase in cancer among the foreign-born over the prevalence of that disease in
their native countries is due to the increased consumption of animal foods…."
Over the past century, meat eating in America has soared, as have cancer
statistics. USDA figures show that meat eating rose from 123.9 pounds of meat
per person per year in 1909 to 201.5 pounds in 2004.
The good news is that many have woken up and smelled the carcinogens. They know
there is plenty of protein in beans, grains, and vegetables, and that
traditional Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Japanese foods--and endless other
cuisines--turn these plant-based staples into delicious and nourishing meals.
Meat eating has fallen about one percent every year since 2004.
If you haven't yet kicked the habit, the New Year is the perfect time to do it.
We've got you covered with our
programs, books, DVDs, and everything
else you'll ever need. Let's not wait another hundred years.