When I first met you baby you fed me on chicken and wine
It was steak and potatoes and lobster and babe, I sure felt fine
But now all you give me is seaweed and alfalfa sprouts
And sunflower seeds and I got my doubts
Babe, you left me here with the chicken cordon bleus
My stomach’s so empty and all I got is food for thought
And I’ve been sittin’ here thinkin’
’Bout the 20 pounds of groceries we bought
We bought 10 pounds of brown rice and five more of beans
And five pounds of granola and you know what that means
I’m just a regular fella with the chicken cordon bleus
Now won’t you to play me them fat licks?
I’m starved for affection and babe, I can’t take no more
You know this stuff is so weird that the cockroaches moved next door
Babe, can you see that old dog, he’s out in the street
He’s got a big smile on his face ’cause they let him eat meat
And babe, I got the lemon and the chicken cordon bleus
Babe, I’m goin’ down to the bakery and I’m going to find me a jelly roll
And some cannoli, some French pastry
A chocolate eclair don’t sound too bad, how about some lasagna?
You know fat is where it’s at, my shadow disappears
Bacon will kill you. This is what I hear.
OK, it’s not quite what I hear.
What I actually hear is this: the World Health Organization has determined that the daily consumption of 50 grams of processed meat increases the chances of developing colourectal cancer by about 18 per cent. It’s a more nuanced point that makes for a bad headline, though, so what I’ve been hearing this past week is that bacon will kill you.
The response to this news has been mixed. Those of us who don’t eat processed meat have largely chosen to react in one of two ways: a) vague disinterest, or b) triumph. Those of us who do eat processed meat have tended toward these two reactions: a) vague disinterest, or b) rampant denial.
I’m not sure why bacon inspires such vehemence in people. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal. Even when I did consume meat, it wasn’t something I particularly craved or went out of my way to eat. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, it’s not something I’ve ever felt lacking in my life. But some people seem to be pretty choked about the idea that bacon is bad for them — or, at least, worse for them than they had thought previously. I’ve seen it get to the point where people are denying what has clearly been a comprehensive and international look at the effects of processed meat on the human body.
More accurate than “bacon will kill you,” though, is “bacon will kill pigs.” Not literally, I don’t think — though cannibalism can’t be good for a species — but the existence of bacon has led to the death of many pigs in unsavoury conditions. Yes, that’s probably a self-evident statement. What’s possibly less self-evident, though, is that the existence of bacon has led to the lives of many pigs, as well, and most of those pigs are not living happy lives. We wouldn’t have need of nearly so many of them in the world if we weren’t so fond of ham and pork chops and bacon. Mind you, pigs aren’t as much a drain on the environment as cows are, but I’ve probably already annoyed you enough on the bacon front that I don’t need to get into the trouble with cheese.
That said, I think this is a bit closer to the crux of what we’re talking about when we talk about bacon, and how our food choices affect people and the planet on which we live. The fact of the matter is that the amount of meat we consume is not good for us, for the animals we eat, or for the planet. And no one ever, ever wants to hear that. Ever. Try saying it sometime, and see what kind of reaction you get. You don’t have to be asking for someone to become vegan, or even vegetarian. All you have to do is mention that we’d all be better off if people consumed fewer animal products. And then the stream of abuse begins.
Alternatively, you don’t have to say anything. You just have to eat tofu in front of someone, and they’ll tell you how disgusting tofu is and that they won’t eat it. At that point, it’s unhelpful but satisfying to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Were you under the impression I was offering you my lunch?” The other thing that will come up are the evils of phytoestrogens, which can be found in soy. At that point, it continues to be unhelpful and becomes unsatisfying to tell people that studies pointing to problems with phytoestrogens have cherry-picked their data and relied on extreme cases to prove their point. You can even keep a copy of a study on your phone to show them, but no one will want to see it. Science is no one’s favourite when it’s asking you to do things you don’t want to do.
That’s one of several things that science and religion have in common: bringing up inconvenient ideas. At different times, they’ve come up with the same inconvenient ideas, too. The United Nations Environment program has been urging people to rely less on animal products for the better part of five years. More recently, Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’ that every purchase is a moral choice as well as an economic one, with ramifications for people and the planet. No one seems super pumped about that either. The first has largely been ignored, and the second has often been derided. Science is all well and good when it’s shining lasers at things in labs, and religion is just fine when it’s in a church for an hour on Sundays. It’s when science and religion go out into the street and say, “hey, so less bacon, guys,” that it becomes a problem.
But seriously, guys. Less bacon.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings