Last week’s story on processed meats causing cancer was an Internet motherlode. The story spread like a grease fire, combining the Internet’s national cuisine (bacon) with its national pastime (fear-mongering). As is often the case with a scientific report’s introduction to the mainstream, the WHO’s largely calm and collected statements – “eating red meat has not yet been established as a cause of cancer” – were contorted into headlines about how bacon will kill you. It’s the kind of news that, for the most part, people pass around on Thursday morning and forget about by Friday afternoon, just in time for them to drink their carcinogenic alcohol, smoke their carcinogenic cigarettes, and frolic in their carcinogenic sunshine.
But what if processed meat weren’t just your brunchtime indulgence? What if it were a staple of your diet, namely because processed meats are cheap, and keep well, and don’t take much prep time between multiple jobs? That’s the reality for many Americans, and the “bacon causes cancer” line is a lot less funny when you consider that people on nutrition-assistance programs rely more heavily on processed meats.
Food is, after all, not just about taste. For people struggling financially, healthy food is a hard bargain (and getting harder), costing an estimated $550 more per year. Getting by on SNAP or WIC is a challenge for many families, but the myth that obesity is an affliction of the poor isn’t quite true, either. Guiding people towards healthier options is a matter not only of economics, but of culture, too, which can be much harder to legislate. That said, there are relatively quick fixes to be made, like cutting sugar intake in children. As Mexico hems and haws on its soda intake, and the U.S. can’t seem to even hem (let alone haw) on the issue, the fight against food insecurity rages onward, with or without the bacon.