Here we go again. The World Cancer Research Fund has doubled down on its claim that all processed meats – including bacon, sausage, and deli meats – are to be avoided due to the increased risk of bowel cancer. This risk has been proclaimed thanks to researchers cross-referencing a number of studies, and lumping cheap, vacuum packed meat products in with the good stuff, and labeling all of it bad.
Yes, we’ve heard this before, along with avoiding nitrates, red food coloring and all the other unnatural additives that seem to be the ACTUAL culprits in spurring on cancer of the bowel. But what about the old-fashioned, handcrafted, artisan bacon, hot dogs, sausages, etc.
The Guardian asked the same questions.
The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didn’t have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we haven’t been told – including by the WHO – is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.
How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked – each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough….
The pinkness of bacon – or cooked ham, or salami – is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why “processed meat” is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of “processed meat” but “nitro-meat”.
In other words, don’t trust the stuff that is the same color as breast cancer awareness ribbons.
Another option is to purchase such meats from a local butcher who produces craft level bacon and sausage. Honestly, those products DO have a different color and are more pleasing to the tongue. The problem is the price. That being the case, having bacon and sausage as a treat rather than a staple is definitely an option.
So, is it safe to eat bacon? It turns out, it depends on how it is produced.