Another Look at Bacon and Cancer

What if I told you there was something you could easily do to increase both your health and your lifespan? It would be simple, uncomplicated, and you can apply it instantly. In fact, it’s not so much something you do as something you don’t do. All you would have to do is avoid one simple activity and you would increase your health in a big way. You would likely be interested, yes? After all, who does not want to live longer?

Good news, because I will tell you right now: don’t smoke cigarettes.

Seriously, don’t do this.

Right now, you are probably thinking one of three thoughts. First, duh, everyone knows this. This isn’t exactly earth shattering news. Smoking has been linked to so many cancers and illnesses that it’s simply become public knowledge. The only people who try to deny this are the tobacco companies themselves.

After this initial thought, you would think one of the following. Either you currently don’t smoke and have no intention of smoking, or you know you should stop smoking but cannot. If you don’t smoke, great, keep it that way. Pat yourself on the back. If you do smoke, you should likely find a way to stop. That’s easier said than done, I know. Nicotine addiction is a terrible thing. You know all the information and facts about smoking, but you physically cannot stop. You have an addiction, and you almost certainly need outside help, a support group, to get you over the hump. Even then you would require incredible amounts of self-control and willpower. It’s possible, but you would have to work really hard.

So far, I haven’t said anything you didn’t know before. Increasingly society is vilifying smoking. Ontario has banned smoking from bars and nightclubs, and they want to get into bingo halls next. I heard rumblings several months ago that the province wanted it to be illegal to smoke inside a car if you had passengers. I don’t think that law went through, or if it is even enforceable, but it shows how far public sentiment has shifted away from smoking. We all know it’s terrible, and we all know we shouldn’t do it.

We all know this. We consider it obvious, and we react accordingly. Now, if you will, read the above paragraphs again, but this time sub out ‘smoking’ with ‘eating unhealthy’. See what changes.

Strangely, this is quite a different thing.

We all know eating unhealthy is unhealthy. Duh. This isn’t exactly earth shattering news. Poor diet has been linked from everything to diabetes to dementia and everything in between. We all know this … but strangely most of us do nothing.

I find this fascinating. If you tell someone not to smoke, they’ll likely agree with you. They can be smoking that exact second and agree with you. If you tell someone not to eat potato chips or chocolate bars or bacon, you will get a completely different reaction.

You’ve likely heard the news in the last week. A scientific study suggested that eating bacon and other cured red meats increase your risks of colorectal cancer, not to mention other illnesses as well. Greatly reducing or giving up bacon will make you live longer, period. End of story.

On the one hand, this should not surprise too many people. Bacon has never pretended to be a healthy food option. A delicious food option, certainly, but not a healthy one. In general, if you cook something and it produces its own grease, you’re probably looking at something unhealthy. Just a guess. This should not be that different from smoking, as the results are pretty clear-cut, but the public reaction has been wholly different.

When the news first broke on Twitter, the reaction was fast and one-sided. Remarks such as “what’s the point of living 10 years longer if I can’t have bacon?” got retweeted by hundreds and thousands of people. “Give me bacon or give me death” made the rounds. The general consensus seemed it was better to have bacon but be unhealthy than to be healthy but without bacon.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be literal or …

Can you see the strange dichotomy here? I say smoking is unhealthy, everyone agrees. Smoking is the devil. Don’t smoke, and if you do smoke, get help to quit. Your health is too important to smoke. When I now say bacon is unhealthy, though, suddenly the excuses fly. Health is no longer first priority. It seems our taste buds and comfort reign supreme.

You see, people may want to be healthy, but mostly they don’t want to change. People want to stay in their comfort zone. Smoking causes cancer? No problem, because most people do not smoke anymore. If you say a delicious favourite food is unhealthy, though, that hits too close to home. That requires change, and change is hard. Easier to just ignore it.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is again with the smoking and the bacon. Smoking causes cancer. We all know this. Nobody wants cancer. This is the general response about this issue. Now let’s look at bacon. It may cause cancer, or increase the risk of cancer. What’s the general response? “Oh well, everything causes cancer.”

What can you do?

It’s incredible when you look at it this way. People like bacon so much they would be willing to risk cancer. I know some people who went into the nitty-gritty mathematics of the study, explaining how the potential risk is actually fairly low, something like a 6% chance to get colorectal cancer. As if this were acceptable!

We are very strange creatures when it comes to our health. We never think about our health until we are sick. We all want to be healthy, but only if we don’t have to try to hard. Change our habits? No, far easier to take a pill or do something else. Besides, we’re all going to die anyway, so what’s the use?

I don’t want to sound holier than thou. I love bacon. It’s a rare food that I can both taste and smell, and the bacon sandwich has been one of my favourite breakfast treats for years now. All the same, I haven’t had any bacon since I heard the news, and I’m not sure when I will again. I’ve had enough ill health in my life to risk any more. If bacon has to go, then sadly, I bid it farewell.

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