Life causes cancer. Eat more bacon!

November 19, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

You hear that? That cacophonous wail, the mad thumping of ten million gristle-encrusted chests from here to the American Cancer Society?

Fear not. It’s just the howl of America’s army of baffled paleo bros, meat fetishists, furious beef industry execs and bacon-obsessed dudes with 10 pounds of mysterious blockage where their colons used to be, all protesting, somewhat lethargically and with a weird cramp in their small intestine, the World Health Organization’s latest proclamation. Did you hear?

That’s right: Red meat probably causes cancer. More directly: processed meats – bacon, sausage, smoked turkey, hot dogs, McNuggets, that over-salted gristle in your fave Chinese takeout – most definitely cause cancer, to the point where the WHO has officially placed these tasty carcinogens in the same category as smoking, arsenic, and alcohol.

And lo, the terrorists win again.

You’re surprised? You’re not surprised. Nitrates have been bad news forever. Ditto excessive salt, “smoke flavoring,” preservatives, curing and charring and soaking that massive pork loin in brine to bring out all the delicious death. There’s a reason any healthy human on earth turns a sickly shade of pale after ingesting a triple bacon Whopper.

Not that you hear much about it. Like Big Tobacco before it, Big Meat has successfully suppressed the obvious for years, by way of relentless marketing, ruthless lobbying and front-loading the USDA with pro-beef cronies. Ever wonder why bacon has gone viral a hundred times over in recent years, all of a sudden, spawning all manner of absurd trend, nasty food product, ridiculous YouTube channel? Ever seen an industrial hog farm tailing pond? Exactly.

Does this sound familiar? “We simply don’t think the evidence supports any casual link between any red meat and any type of cancer.”

Goes well with bourbon. And a slight delirium.

Goes well with bourbon. And a slight delirium.

That’s Shalene McNeil, a top “nutritionist” at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, responding to the WHO report, giving her best impression of an RJ Reynolds tobacco executive. “Also, stabbing myself in the eye with this fork doesn’t hurt at all,” she did not add, stabbing herself in the eye with a fork, and screaming.

Thing is, it requires a special combination of willful ignorance and lazy death wish to reject everything that science, common sense and your body already tell you, every day: Smoking is dumb. Sodas are terrible. Texting while driving is suicidal. Guns contribute nothing of value to human progress. Processed foods are deadly. And processed meats are deadlier still.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, Mr. Clogged Colon.

Look, don’t get crazy. They’re not saying eating bacon is exactly the same as smoking, in terms of your imminent doom, yellow teeth and how awful you smell to your lover. The new classification merely places meat in the same category of carcinogen, not the same level of risk.

Translation: While eating excessive amounts of processed meats will surely double or triple your risk for colon, stomach, rectal and many other very unpleasant cancers, smoking, next to gun ownership, dating a Kardashian and voting Republican, remains one of the most insane things you can do to your body, by a large factor.

But really, so what? Life is full of death, right? Everything you love will kill you eventually, say the clever pessimists of the world. In short: Bacon is delicious and hipster-riffic and we’re all gonna die anyway, so who cares?

Well, sure. Many things can, in fact, make you very sick indeed: Air pollution. Laundry detergent. Coca-Cola. Computer screens. Refined sugar. Airports. Lack of sex. Too much sex. Organized religion. Guilt and shame, stress and anxiety, heroin and cell phones and working the graveyard shift. Politics. Hair products. Tight underwear. Gravity.

Who can say exactly what might trigger your body’s latent cancer cells into more deadly action? Who knows why some people get sick and some don’t, despite awful diets, cruelty to animals, a lifetime of smoking and drinking and skipping the salad? Might as well live a little, right? Pass the bacon donuts!

Nice try. Nice cop-out. Also exactly the intellectually lazy, spiritually numb reaction the meat industry (and Big Pharma, and McDonald’s, et al) is praying you’ll have.

Here’s the thing: Fatalism is easy. Pretending it’s all just another case of science, or the government, or Big Kale trying to take away our “freedoms” and pleasures is also easy (and also sort of idiotic). Life is so crammed with pleasures, and Americans are so wildly over-entitled already, it’s downright absurd. As always, it’s discernment that’s hard.

Do not misunderstand. Bacon is awesome. Context is key. It’s vital to properly savor and appreciate the bounty of this life, with respect and balance and a Bi-Rite whoopee pie with well-aged bourbon, now and then. Hell, I live mere blocks from the finest heritage pork chop on the west coast (Nopa), and arguably the finest, Bourdain-approved BBQ in the City (4505 Burgers & BBQ). Once a month or so, you’ll find me in a happy, carcinogenic swoon at one or the other. I mean, good lord.

But is it all really just about forced moderation, or adhering to some strict diet you know you’re “supposed” to follow, but resent the hell out of? Or is it more about trying to recognize the continuum of experience? That is to say, cultivating a stable undercurrent of reverence for life’s staggering surfeit, so you automatically choose, evermore wisely and sans resentment, the kinds of things you want to bring into your body, your heart, your life?

Put another way: It ain’t about bacon. Bacon is fun and absurd and small and meaningless.

It’s about – isn’t it always? – the larger filter, the overall approach your life, you body, your world: What brings more vitality, health, true sustenance? What are those foods, experiences, practices and people, jobs and projects that genuinely add to the overall wellspring of health and love?

Chances are, it ain’t junk food. It ain’t enormous piles of obvious carcinogens, every day. That’s not where you find meaning, truth, God. Or rather, if it is, perhaps the threat of deadly illness isn’t your biggest concern.

Read more here:: Life causes cancer. Eat more bacon!

Mark Morford

About Mark Morford