Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Will red meat really kill you?

A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine correlates eating any type of red meat with a higher risk of mortality. This 20-year study followed 110,000 adults and concluded that eating red meat of any kind may be risky. The lead author of the study, An Pan, said in an interview that "Any red meat you eat contributes to the risk."

Does this mean we all have to stop eating red meat at the risk of dropping dead? Probably not. The authors of the study themselves suggest modest dietary changes (eat red meat a couple times a week instead of every day) rather than red meat abstinence. Despite what may be suggested by many news organizations' headlines, this study does NOT establish a causative relationship between eating red meat and death. Instead, they have correlated these two things. Other factors may be at play.

There are other valid criticisms of the study, or at least limitations on what can be concluded given the data at hand. The authors do not differentiate between unprocessed and processed meat (things like bologna, bacon, and hot dogs) in the study. Since processed meats have already been shown to increase your risks for certain diseases, these specific types of meat may be more to blame than the unprocessed sort. Also, the study relies on self-reported data, which is not always the most accurate way to judge human behavior. Via BoingBoing, a great explanation of the study, what it has found, and what it has not found, is located here. It's recommended reading for all carnivores.

The take home message seems to be that, for now, although we're not certain that eating red meat will harm you, it seems to be correlated with an increased risk of death. We do know that consuming certain types of red meat is likely to increase your risk of certain diseases, so it's a good idea to reduce your intake to no more than a couple times a week, and to balance it out with other types of protein as well as lots of fruits and vegetables, the consumption of which seem to be correlated with good health outcomes.

Since meat is also expensive, calorie-dense, and producing it is environmentally taxing, that seems to be pretty good advice for your health, your wallet, and the environment.

(Image: Beef!, a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 image from Michael Cannon's photostream)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day everyone... why not celebrate with some Pi pies?

Need a recipe? How about one from a woman who I pretty much view as the queen of pie?

(Image: Pie for Pi Day, a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 image from djwtwo's photo stream)

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Compartmentalization of Violence

Over at BoingBoing, there is a very thought-provoking interview with Timothy Pachirat, who has written a book after going "undercover" at a slaughterhouse in Nebraska entitled Every Twelve Seconds. Rather than the usual expose, his writing addresses how the violence inherent in killing animals for our food on an industrial level is compartmentalized and shielded from society. Although this work is more related to food philosophy than food science, I think it's important enough an issue to think about that I'm blogging about it here.

Pachirat discusses how the actual work of killing cattle at slaughterhouses is broken down into specific tasks, and how the individuals that do each task are separated from each other and the outside world, physically and mentally, using walls, ideology, and language. This separates humans from the violence that is occurring, allowing consumers and even slaughterhouse employees to effectively ignore or believe that they are not responsible for the act of killing. This happens within the slaughterhouse, and, on a larger scale, outside the slaughterhouse where society in general is separated from the nasty work, done mostly by immigrants behind closed doors that few, if any of us, get a glimpse behind.

The issues discussed in this interview and in Pachirat's book raise quite a few uncomfortable questions about industrial meat production. Who is responsible? Is the act of placing responsibility another way to compartmentalize violence perpetrated by an entire society? How does this relate to other acts of violence that occur behind closed doors in order for us to remain "civilized," like torture, inprisonment, and execution? As a consumer of meat myself, I think that it is the responsibility of humans to ask questions about where their food comes from. We must make educated, informed, and well-thought-out decisions about what is okay to eat, and by extension what processes in which we are willing to be complicit. 

(image via BoingBoing)