Commentary  Hyde Park: Greater risk with every bite

What Chartwells, Schwartz’s, and sugar shacks don’t want you to know

Before taking another bite of smoked meat, I encourage you to question this ingrained habit. Every bite of processed meat increases cancer risk, environmental damage, and animal suffering.

The 2007 World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research’s Second Expert Report stated, “Processed meat is a convincing cause of colorectal cancer.” Ham, bacon, lunch meats, hot dogs, and sausages – all meats preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or the addition of chemical preservatives are processed meats to be avoided. No meat, or any animal product for that matter, is necessary for a healthy life, and studies continually show the benefits of eating plants rich in cancer-fighting nutrients.

Carotenoids found in carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, and other brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and dark greens are shown to help prevent cancer. Vitamin C can neutralize cancer-causing chemicals, and soybeans contain anticarcinogens such as lignans and phytoestrogens. According to the National Cancer Institute, 35 to 50 per cent of cancers are preventable by changing dietary habits.

Lacking fibre, meat prevents proper colon function, and by cooking meat at high temperatures, harmful carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are produced, which are related to colorectal cancer risk. In the Nurses’ Health Study II, Harvard researchers determined that the risk of breast cancer increases with the consumption of animal fat, especially from red meat and high-fat dairy products. Whereas there are convincing links between consumption of animal products and colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer, further studies are necessary to determine links with other cancers.

The North American diet is related not only to cancer, but also to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Around the world, rates of these chronic diseases are on the rise as meat and dairy-based diets become more popular. Excessive amounts of animal protein are associated with a higher risk of a variety of chronic diseases.

Pressure to continue consuming animals can be neighbourly and deadly. From government-run school lunch programs to social events and holidays surrounding animal products, the social pressure to adopt and maintain an animal-based diet is high. For those who grew up eating a typical North American diet, meals without meat and dairy are also often ridiculed and thought to be limited to salad and side dishes. However, a plant-based diet is in no way inferior to a traditional diet, and with very little effort, it is very easy to thrive and surpass the nutritional quality of a traditional diet. A plant-based diet also encourages creativity and freedom from the restrictions of local cafeteria menus. A plant-based diet goes far beyond positively impacting personal health – it also positively impacts our planet and the lives of fellow animals. A plant-based diet is direct action.

According to the UN report Livestock’s Long Shadow, animal agriculture releases more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry – methane being more harmful than carbon dioxide. Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told the BBC this September, “I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider.”

Grain fed to animals also contributes to world hunger – an issue hardly acknowledged during the current food crisis. Over 55-billion cows, pigs, chickens, and other sentient animals are slaughtered annually for human consumption. This torture is completely unnecessary, and most people never witness the violence that goes into making dinner. Consuming any animal product supports the cruelty of continued world hunger, animal agriculture, and slaughter.

So, when it comes to meat, there are no excuses. It is impossible to justify eating meat in our present society. It’s time to take control of what we’re eating. Give peas a chance and say yes to soy!

Emma Chait is a U2 Anthropology student and a member of the Animal Liberties Club at McGill. She can be reached at