You can safely file it under ‘Another day, another food study.’ Followed by… now what?
Case in point: the recent meat-centered study coming from Dalhousie and McMaster Universities, which concluded that the health benefits associated with reducing or eliminating red and processed meats are minimal, and the risks we thought existed are also quite small, hence the recommendation to eat meat without restrictions, if that’s how you feel like it.
So what’s wrong with that, some will say. The study eased the guilt and worry about red and processed meats. It’s good to not have guilt or fear as a side dish, right? Granted, the researchers admitted they had not taken into consideration any animals welfare and environmental issues, and they considered people’s attachment to their meat-based diet as one of the factors to base their recommendations on.
Food is not a black and white issue, and we do not need science to tell us that. From the oldest of times, people ate what they could catch or hunt, or grow (later on), and menus were hardly a matter of choice. Size was not either.
Moreover, meals were for the most part, and they still are, in many parts of the world, a shared affair. When we partake in meals with our fellow humans, many good things happen community-wise. You look after one another because your well-being depends on your fellow humans’ and the other way around. Also, you look after the space that provides you with food, be it a garden space, forest, or field, because your life depends on it.
In other words, historically speaking, food has never been separated from life itself, and perhaps that is why we ought to take some studies with a grain of salt.
Science is what helped us be where we are; the benefits are beyond awe-inspiring in all areas of life. The one caveat when it comes to food studies, I believe, is that we have to remember to put them in the full context. A food category, or a food in itself, is not something that exists out of context. It matters how it is produced, and thus its impact matters. Straying too far from understanding food as multi-faceted, from production to transport to consumption, leaves us at the mercy of whomever says whatever about eating.
One of the big topics that ties food and the environment, and pertains to the health of both, is industrial farming. Take meat production. The feedlots, which are mostly tucked away out of consumers’ sight, but are occasionally causing an uproar when hidden cameras reveal the dark secrets of meat production publicly, are still very much in operation though many people disagree with the way they are run.
The more people buy and eat, the more needed such operations will be. Meat from animals raised under humane conditions is usually costlier than the industrial operation-produced meat. For a reason. It ensures not only the well-being of animals, but also the overall well-being of the farmers that raise the animals, the environment and the health of consumers. Neither of these can be ignored or tucked away because people are too attached to their meat-based diet.
Adults are not picky children and while eating, one can argue, is an emotional affair overall (there is nothing wrong with loving food, from cooking to enjoying it,) deciding how to put together those meals has to involve more than satisfying our taste buds.
Making use of everything food that is available locally in the first place, whether in one’s garden or at locally supplied grocery stores, including meat if one wishes, but without ignoring the above-mentioned considerations, that can see people in better health and their local economy thriving.
It’s all about that big circle we are part of. The way we produce our food translates into how we take care of ourselves and studies should reflect that. After all, science has been our ally in understanding the way our world works, our place in it and the reason why we ought to take care of it as much as we can, in all the ways that we can. It is only fitting that new studies should keep supporting all of that and further inspire us to do better.