This Applies to All Things Natural
A lot of people have been asking me what I think about the World Health Organization's recent declaration that processed meats will give you cancer, and that red meat probably will give you cancer. I have been really busy, and hard pressed to find time to comment in a way that feels measured. In general, I deal with FDA and WHO and other institutional "declarations" with skepticism, amusement, and did I say skepticism? But, I do realize that most people may not. Thalidomide or no, these are the institutions that people have, and so these are the institutions that people trust.
My position on food and diet is quite different from a thing that will fit on the back of a cereal box. I'll work on that, truly. Cartoons are super effective. But in the meantime let's just address this meat thing, ok?
I think the WHO headline is akin to 300% of the body's daily allowance of fear mongering.
Here's what it is: They did a meta-analysis, which is a statistical survey of other people's studies, probably involving some lobbyist, and concluded that people with cancer had eaten some processed meats. They probably didn't pay attention to the other stuff the test subjects were eating. Pop tarts perhaps? Pink-dyed yogurt to raise awareness for breast cancer? Textured vegetable protein perhaps? What were all those other studies anyway? Lets imagine that they were studies on colorectal cancer. Maybe they were even studies on the diets of people who suffered from colorectal cancer. Even if they had conducted their own study, with their own test subjects, all with colorectal cancer, how could they set that up to isolate cured meats, or things within cured meats, unless they forced people to eat only cured meats, or somehow had some miraculous new tool that tells scientists the full and final effects of all synergistic calculations that our amazing bodies make during the digestive process?
Here is why nutrition science is kind of a joke, sort of like meteorology: YOU CAN'T SCIENCE NATURE. You can science it here and there, and that has helped us without a doubt, but really and truly, you can't science the whole. Science is inherently reductionist. It tries to take things apart and see how each part works, and then assumes that if you just put those parts together, you can understand the whole. Nature doesn't work this way. And we have a hard time finding ways to study it, even when scientists DO respect this simple fact of wholeness and synergy. You've heard of Gestalt Theory, right? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This applies to all things natural. The farm. The lamb. The rutabaga. The hurricane. The human body. If you want to read more about my endless passion for this, please buy my book.
So quite naturally, if you have been reading on this WHO thing, you can see why the analysis doesn't point to anything in particular at all, not nitrates, not specifically smoke, and not the curing and aging process. People still don't understand what exactly and entirely happens within a sausage as it cures and ages. That's part of why it is so good. And of course, what we do understand about meat processing and fermentation, we have tried to alter in a super reductionist way, so we can make money. This is the basis of mass produced processed meats, which were not differentiated from other processed meats. The salami or hot dog that you buy at the supermarket truly has four times as many sweeteners, preservatives, coloring agents, acidifiers, and other ballyhoo in it than the ones you'll buy from your local butcher or, egad!, actually make yourself.
My sons and I ate some cured meat last night, on a pizza that we made ourselves. Guess what the ingredients were? Beef. Rosemary. Black Pepper. Cane Sugar. Juniper Berries. Salt.
That feels really pure to me. Really. If it feels scary to you, please call me. Please. My number is 828.222.3686. I will talk about nitrates with you. I will talk about them in the leaf of a kale plant, and I will talk about them in a salami. I will talk about your hemoglobins with you, and your beautiful, perfect cell walls, which are made of saturated fat.
My position on all of this remains the same: eat diversely. Choose whole, real foods. Everything in moderation, even moderation. Respect your body as an ecosystem, as part of nature, as part of water, mineral, and energy cycles, and you'll experience resilience. Feed meats that you have cured to your young children, and feel confident in the purity of their ingredients. A tiny amount of nitrate, metabolized by bacteria, and digested by their bodies is probably much less virulent than the toxins they breathe in town, the candy they may eat on Halloween this weekend, and the city water they drink at school. I very much doubt that any reductionist scientific study, or meta analysis of other old studies, will be able to drop pinpoints on the holistic world and our holistic bodies in a way that leads to constructive healing, and not just money and media gags.
WHO? No! You! You're better than fear. More amazing and complex than a pyramid. More resilient and wonderful than you can even imagine.