After years of research and hundreds of studies finding links between eating certain meats and cancers, health experts have finally broken out the branding irons.
Today, in a sizzling announcement, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) officially marked processed meat, such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages, as “carcinogenic to humans,” a “group 1” designation. The agency, an arm of the World Health Organization, also classified red meat, such as beef, pork, and lamb, as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” a “group 2A” grade.
It was the early 1900s, and Danes in Schleswig, repressed under German rule, decided to use biology to fight back. No, they didn’t make a biological weapon. They made a pig. This is the Danish Protest Pig.
Most of us learn to cook through trial and error, the Food Network, or being forced to feed ourselves when no one else will do it. So naturally, no one’s born knowing how to sauté chicken, or blanch vegetables. Here are some basic (but useful) cooking techniques chefs use every day, but the rest of us rarely pick up.
Today we bend Clostridium botulinum to our will, forcing it to make our faces smoother and our actors less able to do their jobs. Once, though, people had no idea what caused the “sausage disease.” It took two good men and one bad dinner to let the world know what was going on.
Those of us watching Hannibal know that when Hannibal feeds someone chestnuts, it’s a warning sign. Supposedly a diet of chestnuts flavors meat. Let’s look at several studies on the subject (done with pigs, not humans) and try to determine if that’s true.
Did you know that in the Old West, people used to have pig drives, the same way they had cattle drives? They marched huge herds of pigs across the country to be slaughtered. Also, pigs attack and kill people every year, including one man who was pinned to his tractor. We have a very strange relationship with pigs. A new book, Lesser Beasts by Mark Essig, tells you everything you need to know about the fascinating history of swine. You’ll learn how much you really have in common with pigs, plus everything else that you didn’t know you wanted to know.
Now I’m the one who’s gladly stinking up the house with kraut, pork, and peas; I like these foods and don’t just limit them to the turn of a new year. But I’ve always wondered about our family custom. My mother grew up in Ohio with lots of German and Polish neighbors, while my dad’s gaggle of military brat siblings lived on Air Force bases in Florida and Louisiana. Mom brought the pork and kraut to our table’s traditions; Dad, the black-eyes. But which cultures started these celebratory superstitions in the first place? And why those foods?
To dig a little deeper, I chose four popular regional American good luck foods of the new year—the pork and sauerkraut of the Midwest, the greens and black-eyed peas of the South, the pickled herring of Scandinavian immigrants, and the lentils of Italian-Americans—on a quest for the facts behind the fortune.
It should be made clear that the research appears reputable. The research does not rely upon statistical analysis that can be potentially biased. It’s about the presence or absence of genetic mutations in different species, making the results extremely robust. However, in this study the high Neu5Gc diet was 0.25 mg of Neu5Gc per gram of food. For comparison their estimated range of Neu5Gc content in beef is 0.023-0.231 mg per gram. Effectively the mice were fed ~1,000 times more Neu5Gc in their food than what is found in a steak. And the mice could only eat this pellet, whereas humans don’t only eat steak.
Red meat has been linked to cancer for decades, with research suggesting that eating large amounts of pork, beef or lamb raises the risk of deadly tumours. But for the first time scientists think they know what is causing the effect. The body, it seems, views red meat as a foreign invader and sparks a toxic immune response.
Red meat contains Neu5Gc. Pork has more Neu5Gc than beef, and dairy has it too. Fish contains trace amounts, and poultry has none. Cooking didn’t have a significant effect on the Neu5Gc content – cooking reduced water weight, and therefore increased the µg/g value. Here’s the chart from the paper:
Neu5Gc Content and Percentage of Various Food Groups
When our ancestors evolutionary diverged from chimpanzees, we developed a mutation in an enzyme known as CMAH. CMAH catalyzes the addition of a hydroxyl group to sialic acid (NeuNAc) to produce Neu5Gc (NeuNAc w/ added -OH). One of the things that makes you uniquely human compared to almost all other mammals are the patterns of carbohydrates that cover the surface of your cells. What makes you uniquely human is the striking lack of Neu5Gc on your cells compared to almost all other mammals.
Mutation of the CMAH enzymatic pathway may have promoted developmental brain complexity. This supports the view that human ancestors ate a primarily vegan diet. With little rare meat consumption to result in accelerated aging, the effects of this reduced fitness was outweighed by increased brain complexity that may have provided a survival advantage for mutants.
Glycoscience is a new branch of science that will help us get closer to understanding the human body in the finest details. If this research is confirmed to be true, it will have great implications on how to make consumption of red meat safe (genetic modification?) and could shed more light on how the body prevents cancer from spreading out of control (not everyone dies from cancer).
Just what will you be putting on your plate during this holiday season? You probably already know that centuries of selective breeding have produced the creatures we love to feast on, but you might be surprised at how weird the process has been. Here are the 10 most startling origin stories for the animals that most people eat.
On a similar note, I treeplanted with a person who enjoyed dogs but would never own one for sake of the domestication the animal species has undergone over centuries. Which brings up another point – that the list in the article is predominantly North American.
Guemene-sur-Scorff in north-west France may not be well known internationally, but a popular French delicacy was born in the town. The andouille de Guemene is a pork sausage made from pigs’ intestines and stomachs.
…The salted intestines of three pigs, weighing in at 3kg, go into each andouille, which are then smoked over oak wood and dried, sometimes for months on end before being cooked slowly in stock. Cut through, the innards resemble pinky-grey tree rings carrying a distinctly smoky taste and aroma.