by Ray Linville
New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. But for 2016, I’m making one resolution that I promise to keep: Eat more bacon.
Bacon took it on the chin recently when the World Health Organization (WHO) identified it with other processed meats as being carcinogenic to humans.
Carcinogenic is a word that I didn’t even know until well after I had given up cigarettes (a demand from my wife when we were expecting our first child). It’s a word that I should have been taught before I had left high school, because I grew up in the tobacco city of Winston-Salem (yes, the self-described “heart of tobacco” that lends its name to two leading brands).
Imagine the shock in that city when the U.S. Surgeon General proclaimed in 1964 that cigarette smoking is harmful. Heck, we kids knew that-we didn’t need any official proof. The coughing by our elders convinced us that something wasn’t right. I understand the link between tobacco and cancer.
However, I’m at a loss to connect bacon and cancer. WHO went so far as to lump bacon with carcinogenic items such as formaldehyde, asbestos, plutonium, arsenic and radium. Of course, those items are dangerous-but bacon?
Bacon is the Lord’s gift to Southern food. Although a tomato sandwich (with Duke’s Mayonnaise) is a great summertime meal, add bacon with a little lettuce and the sandwich becomes perfect. For many foods, bacon is what adds nature’s goodness.
Similarly, doesn’t a salad look naked without bacon bits? Actually, please check: Some bacon bits are made with no bacon-scary. Talk about carcinogenic! (Imitation bacon bits are made from TVP, textured vegetable protein. Shouldn’t WHO include them in its list of 116 items that cause cancer?)
The difference between smoking cigarettes habitually and enjoying bacon occasionally is immense-a point that escaped WHO. Fortunately, WHO came to its senses several days later. Of course, this was after the North American Meat Institute had claimed that WHO “tortured the data to ensure a specific outcome.” But modify its warnings WHO did-although it needed three full days to reconsider the evidence. I would need only three seconds.
WHO admitted that it wasn’t calling for people to stop eating meat and that it hadn’t determined a safe “meat quota” (a diet high in processed meat, not occasional eating, had caused the cancer deaths).
What WHO had also failed to do was to place cancer deaths caused by processed meat in perspective. Almost six times as many cancer deaths worldwide are caused by air pollution. So give bacon a break.
As I continue to enjoy bacon, my new lifestyle is to avoid polluted air and those other carcinogenic items identified by WHO.
Now, let’s eat some bacon.
Retired from the N.C. Community College System, Linville is a contributing writer for the N.C. Folklife Institute and conducts programs on Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.