I’ve been a smoker for a very long time. Even after a public announcement that I was quitting last January, I’ve once again started puffing. My habit is less than before, to be sure, but I’m still reaching for the pack. Strangely, in all those years of smoking, the label on the side of that cigarette pack explaining the health risks involved in the activity have barely given me pause.
So, at least from my perspective, this sounds more than a little misguided (from the LA Times):
"Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer."
That's the label that a vegan advocacy group wants a New Jersey court to order Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National and other food companies to slap on hot dog packages.
My guess is that it would accomplish little more than pissing people off. I know it pisses me off. How about you?
Yes, I suppose the Cancer Project has their hearts in the right place. After all, preventing cancer is a laudable goal:
"Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer," says Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. "Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."
There are, however, a few snags. The Cancer Project rests their case on studies linking the use of nitrates in meat curing to colorectal cancer, which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year.
But the medical community is divided on weather or not the amount of nitrates consumed in hot dogs, and other processed meat, leads to increased risk of the cancer:
Although some medical studies link red and processed meats to cancer risk, it's not clear whether it is because of the nitrites or other factors such as the high fat content. "There is speculation that nitrosamines can increase cancer risk when consumed in large amounts and frequently. Occasionally should cause no worry. The stuff people typically have with a hot dog may be a more immediate concern: too many calories from all the fat-laden potato and macaroni salads, sugary drinks and sweet desserts," said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Here’s a news flash: The act of living is the act of dying. That’s not to say you should live like a hedonistic maniac; after awhile it just doesn’t feel good. But even if you lived your life on the straight and narrow, consuming a local, meat free diet and exercising regularly, I guarantee that someone, somewhere, will “discover” you’re doing something to shorten your life.
Life is a series of calculated risks. Some of those risks I’m willing to take. For instance, if I continue to work as the food editor of the Mercury, I’ll probably be putting myself at increased risk for any number of health issues. But I’m willing to do that because I love writing about food. Smoking is unhealthy, I know that, but its also the only time I force myself to sit outside on my porch and just relax for once during the day. That relaxation is more valuable to me right as this moment than some promise that quitting will add more years to my life in the future.
Hot dogs? Fuck you. You don’t mess with the hot dog. The hot dog is less a food than a symbol of everything that is good and right about the summer. Why put a warning on them? You don’t think people don’t already know that too many hot dogs could kill them? What do you think the “lips and assholes” joke is for?
Breathe, and count to ten. I have a suggestion for the Cancer Project that they’ll likely not heed: If you want to combat nitrates, you should be supporting butchers who practice artisanal methods of curing meat. You should be supporting local charcuterie.
Here’s a couple reasons: (1) traditional curing requires minimal to no nitrates, (2) increased cost of the product automatically decreases consumption, (3) more of the animal is used, (4) do to limits on how much local butchers can produce, less animals are killed to create their products, (5) the animals used will have likely been raised in a humane way and slaughtered in a humane way, (6) it simply tastes better.
But the cancer project probably wont put energy into promoting a local craft food industry, most likely because they are linked to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Along with its nobler mission of helping to eradicate animal testing, the Physicians Committee also promotes meat-free diets.
A warning label for frankfurters seems at least shortsighted, and at most, completely asinine. I think that’s what happens when, instead of thinking of creative solutions, organizations attempt to litigate for restraint and morality.
I don’t think this a veggie vs. carnivore thing. It’s a reason vs. dogma thing, and my hope is that cool heads prevail. Otherwise, we’ll be looking at a future plastered with warnings; a nanny-state moderated by fear. You want people to eat right? Then work to eradicate inner city food deserts and a marketing industry looking to hook children into an all corn lifestyle. But don’t cast the shadow of cancer over my summer cookout. That kind of stress will kill me quicker than anything.