There have been times during my years of vegetarianism when I've wondered if I may indeed grow out of it. I've wondered if there might come a day when I'll put aside my childish aversion to the thought of dead stuff traveling through my intestines, like a corpse on a raft ride.
However, it could never happen, and not because I'm so enlightened, sensitive or any of the other euphemisms for "whining hippie" usually dumped on vegetarians. My conversion to flesh-eating couldn't happen because, frankly, I'm not stupid enough. As in, I can read.
Analysis of more than 6,000 pancreatic cancer cases published in the British Journal of Cancer says that eating just 50g of processed meat a day (one sausage or a couple of slices of bacon) raises the likelihood of pancreatic cancer by a fifth. 100g a day (the equivalent of a medium burger) raises it by 38%, 150g by 57%. Men are worst hit, as they tend to eat the most processed meat. And while pancreatic cancer is not the most common of cancers, it's frequently diagnosed late, with four-fifths of sufferers dying within a year of diagnosis.
It should be pointed out that this is about processed meat. However, many past studies have stated a probable link between too much meat and all manner of cancers and heart problems, as well as links to other conditions, from diabetes and high blood pressure to obesity and Alzheimer's.
If, by now, you're thinking that I'm out to shock you, then you couldn't be more wrong. I'd be shocked if any of this was considered new enough to shock anyone. This information has popped up regularly for years in all forms of popular media. Indeed, in this era of info overload, if you've never come across the "burgers and kebabs are unhealthy" revelation, one would have to presume you've been lying in a coma. With this in mind, isn't it time to ask, exactly how thick, how hard to educate, are meat eaters and why aren't they held accountable in the same way everyone else is?
Sympathy is in short supply these days. You can't move for people being blamed for their own miserable situations: smokers who "burden" the NHS; alcoholics who don't "deserve" liver transplants; obese people who "should" pay more for flights. Even those poor terrified women with the faulty breast implants are said to have "brought it on themselves".
By this logic, people who've been regularly informed of the dangers of meat, particularly the cheap processed variety, but who continue to wolf it down should be held just as accountable.
Yet these meat eaters are rarely lambasted. If they're mentioned at all, it's in general poor lifestyle terms, as an afterthought to drinking, smoking, and lack of exercise. You just don't get people making emotional pronouncements about bacon lovers not deserving cancer treatment or kebab fans burdening the NHS. Few are criticized for following the kind of meat-laden diets (Atkins, Dukan), which, one can only presume, are colonic timebombs waiting to happen.
Where meat is concerned, it is almost as if we have developed a personal responsibility blind spot. Where we just shrug and say, meat is here, it's always been here, it is what it is. But meat hasn't always been here in the form of additive-stuffed burgers, pork pies, sausages et al. In my opinion, it's the meat eaters' duty to take this information on board and take direct personal responsibility for the consequences, just as alcoholics and smokers do.
It's not as if they haven't been warned countless times about the dangers – how willfully ill-informed can people be? Or maybe they're just hard. In fact, when I say I'm not dumb enough to eat meat, I should probably add brave enough. With so much frightening information, so readily available for so long, the modern committed carnivore must have nerves of steel.