Let there be bacon
You’ve seen the headlines this week: Bacon is as harmful as cigarettes! Bacon-lovers like me are nonplussed so don’t get happy, Wilbur. As I posted on social media when the story broke, if there was a 50% chance of spontaneous human combustion after eating bacon, I’m still gobbling down that hot, smokey, crisp salty goodness. But the headlines are overshadowing the truth.
Labeling bacon as a harmful carcinogen on par with smoking is fighting words to Americans who place love of bacon slightly above our love of guns.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that bacon and other processed meats cause cancer and have classified bacon alongside other cancer-causing agents like tobacco and asbestos.
But remember that the federal government places marijuana in the same category as heroin. Cue up Sesame Street’s “One of these things is not like the other!” Just because something is placed in the same category of something else says nothing about the relative harm or safety of the two. Getting one’s hand caught in a mousetrap and bear trap are unpleasant experiences but one of those two things is much worse.
While the evidence that bacon and processed meats cause cancer is clear, bacon isn’t as toxic as cigarettes as many headlines have screeched. Eating three strips of delicious bacon a day increases one’s colorectal cancer risk by 18%. And your chance of having colorectal cancer is small to begin with.
Cancer Research UK put out a graphic showing that if no one smoked in the UK there’d be 64,500 fewer cancer cases per year. If everyone gave up processed meats there’d be 8,800 fewer cases. Smoking is much more harmful than eating processed meats.
And remember we’re talking about eating three pieces of bacon a day. Who does that? Who can afford to do that? Have you seen bacon prices lately?
Not to mention the fact that if someone is sitting beside me in a restaurant enjoying three crispy pieces of bacon I’m in no danger of secondhand pork (though I wish I were!)
I’m not making a mockery of the findings. We need to know things we can avoid or eat in moderation to help protect our health. And I don’t think anyone, even dedicated bacon lovers like me, ever thought that bacon was a healthy food.
“Eat bacon in moderation” would have been a more accurate headline than ones that coupled bacon with cigarettes. But then we wouldn’t all be talking about it, would we? Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest regularly comes out with news of some new food threat sure to kill us all. Add that with conflicting studies on butter or margarine, caffeine, wine and other foods that tell us it’s harmful or helpful and the public throws up their hands and eats what they want. This type of sensationalism harms the message.
Like many Americans who command a lot of gravity, I try to make healthier choices. I no longer go to buffets. I try to limit the amount of sweets I eat. I lift weights. I’m eating more fruits and vegetables than I ever have. But I’m not quitting bacon. Babe still has reason to fear my massive mandibles.