Bacon and the Big C


Bacon and the Big C

What do bacon, asbestos, and Michael Douglas’ exes have in common? They all cause cancer. While asbestos and the women of Mike Douglas’s life weren’t “what the fuck” worthy, bacon on my morning BLT on rye is right up there.

Bacon is that sweet yet salty, smoky, unctuous wonder food that for me lies in the same league as A-grade black tar heroin fresh outta Medellin. Could it really give me the Big C? Would I eventually, after consuming copious quantities of bacon each month, lose my hair, my badass, majestic beard, and my life because of one of my favourite foods?

The International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) – the WHO agency dedicated to cancer – is ruining my life. Last year, it caused panic after announcing that processed red meat acts as a carcinogen. As a guy who eats no meat but red meat and would snort bacon powder and mainline liquid bacon fat if I could, the stuff they put out terrifies me until today.

Over the years, the killjoys at the IARC have classified over a thousand things into five groups. The ones to avoid are Group 1 that’s most “Carcinogenic to Humans” and Group 2A that’s “Probably Carcinogenic to Humans”. Group 1, that has stuff like plutonium and ultraviolet radiation that will either kill you or give you super powers, now also includes processed meats. Yes, ham, sausages, bacon, tinned meat, meat preparations, and even meat sauces are carcinogenic.

We Homo sapiens have been “processing” meat since the time Fred got to second base with Wilma. Salting and smoking meat made it last longer and taste better. Scientifically speaking, this traditional method draws out the moisture, concentrates flavours, and breaks down protein structures making the meat easy to digest. Think of it as cooking without actually cooking.

Traditional salumi from Italy and charcuterie from France are fine, artificial-additive-free art forms, that resulted in cured meat that took anywhere from two weeks to a year to prepare. But now, with assembly-line production and industrial-grade chemical additives, what took months now takes hours. So you have additives like nitrates and nitrites and three-lettered dangers like MSG, BHA, and BHT. I could tell you the full forms but I would just put you to sleep, so know this – it is the nitrates that we need to talk about.

Nitrates like potassium or sodium nitrate are salts used to preserve meat. They are also present in fruits, leafy vegetables, and legumes, because of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the soil. Fun fact: Radish has some of the highest levels of nitrates found in vegetables, so if mooli de paranthe or mooli ki sabzi is your thing, sorry boss you’re doomed, aren’t you?

This fucked-up, pulled-out-of-your-ass logic is what has everyone yelling bloody murder because nitrates occur naturally in the environment in a million different forms. If every exposure to nitrates in any form caused cancer, we would all be dead by now. That’s why probability is such a bitch, and people get suckered in by numbers. So how bad is bacon for you, considering it is a Group 1 carcinogen and the nitrates used in its preparation are Group 2A carcinogens?

Fun fact: Radish has some of the highest levels of nitrates found in vegetables, so if mooli de paranthe or mooli ki sabzi is your thing, sorry boss you’re doomed, aren’t you?

Let’s go back to Dr Kurt Straif, the boffin who initiated this shit storm. “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.” So if what Straif says is true, for processed meat to be as harmful as cigarettes, you’d need to consume almost 7,500 grammes of processed meat on an almost daily basis. That’s two whole suckling pigs a day.

But if you’re still thinking, “What a fucking liar. I’m just gonna eat regular cooked food,” then let me just mention that if you’re taking refuge in a tandoori chicken or chicken tikka and seekh kebabs, you’re flirting with the Big C yourself. Cooking at high temperatures or with the food in direct contact with a flame or a hot surface such as grilling, barbecuing, and pan-frying, produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines, responsible for the “smoky” flavour, that irresistible aroma and cancer.

So, back to the question that set it all off. Will a full fry-up, fuck you up? No. Not unless you’re really adamant about eating those two suckling pigs every day. But if you still don’t believe me, allow me to make a list of some dos and don’ts to keep you cancer-free.

Don’t breathe unfiltered air (Group 1 carcinogen)

Don’t sit in the sun (Group 1 again)

Don’t drink wine (Group 1)

Don’t drink coffee (Group 2B)

Don’t eat grilled food (Group 2A)

Don’t use cell phones (Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, Group 2B)

Don’t listen to music (Electromagnetic fields, such as those generated by drivers in loudspeakers, Group 2B)

Do: Live in a plastic bubble in the shade drinking only water synthesised from elemental oxygen and hydrogen and communicate using sign language or other non-verbal communication – while I respond to a plate of sunny-side eggs, smoked chicken sausages, and two slabs of thick-cut oak-smoked bacon with a side of brun pav that has my name on it.