With apologies to Hamlet and William Shakespeare: “To beef, or not to beef, that is the question.” This controversial issue has been stirred up recently by new research published in the highly respected Annals of Internal Medicine (AIM). Dr. Bradley Johnston, a Canadian epidemiologist, led a group of 14 scientists from seven countries. Over three years, they examined numerous articles, studies and trials reporting on 55 populations with more than 4 million participants. Their goal was to determine if consumption of red meat significantly leads to heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
They concluded that the links between red meat and those diseases were small and that the quality of the existing evidence was low. Rather than evidence of a causal clinical connection, the work they evaluated was based on unreliable observations about speculative correlation, not causation.
Their judgment is that most people should not change their meat-eating behavior.
Defenders of the conventional wisdom on nutrition and health sharply criticized this new research. That kind of reaction is predictable in any field from those who are invested in and married to their own theories and resent challenges. The American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society slammed the AIM article. That may be attributed to hypersensitivity about their mission. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine ─ activists for a plant-based diet, ─ filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission attacking AIM. (I’m unaware of any FTC jurisdiction in this matter.) Critics also suspected that Dr. Bradley’s group was funded by the beef industry. It wasn’t.
There was also pushback from global warming alarmists who criticized the AIM report for not linking environmental destruction to animal farming. Whatever your position on global warming, it’s obvious that this was outside the scope of Dr. Bradley’s research and the expertise of his scientific team, which was dealing strictly with diet and health.
This anti-meat mentality and agenda is typified by a California radical, Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods whose meatless, plant-based Impossible Hamburger is now on the menu at Burger King and other restaurants. Brown has declared that animal farming is “racing us toward environmental catastrophe” and he’s dedicated to “eradicating” it and deep sea fishing by 2035. Either he’s nuts or that’s just a hyperbolic marketing ploy to appeal to vegans and greenies ─ or both.
A separate and highly practical study by Johnston’s researchers asked ordinary people why they liked red meat and how sensitive they were to health risks associated with it. They found that “omnivores are attached to meat and are unwilling to change this behavior when faced with potentially undesirable health effects.” I’m a committed omnivore, myself, along with lions, tigers, wolves, vultures and most people who live in Kansas.
As diet and nutrition fads come and go, and with medical and scientific opinion ever conflicted and shifting, the public is confused and uncertain about what to do. I’ve come to grips with that. None of us is getting out of this life alive. There’s a tradeoff between longevity and the enjoyment of life’s indulgences and riskier pleasures. People who participate in things like Xtreme sports, climbing Mt. Everest, pro football, tight-rope-walking-without-a-net and competing in the annual hot dog eating championship at Nathan’s in Coney Island understand that.
Average life expectancy in the US was about 47 years in 1900, 63 in 1940 and is 79 today. That increase is in spite of bad diet, obesity, drugs, alcohol, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, AIDS (and war). Advances in medical science and pharmaceuticals have mitigated health risks and extended lifetimes. I’m mindful of my diet and health but I’m not obsessive about it. Health nuts may live longer and enjoy life in their own healthy way ─ which often includes conspicuous virtue-signaling and condescension of us meat eaters. Whatever. That’s their choice. But I don’t like tofu, lima beans or spinach. And even if I were guaranteed that I’d live a little longer as a vegan, I’d turn down that deal. I like steak houses and I intend to keep enjoying and frequenting them.
According to the latest information from the United States Department of Agriculture, the five basic food groups that make for a healthful diet are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy. There are those who would say it’s MacDonald’s, KFC, Arby’s, Taco Bell and Domino’s. I don’t go quite that far, but do I eat at all those places on occasion in spite of diet scolds or Pat Brown, who can kiss my asparagus.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.