While on a trip to New York 10 years ago my brother took me on a train ride under the Hudson River to New Jersey, specifically Hoboken, to eat at one of their famous and mildly insane steakhouses.

It was a town that prided itself on the sheer size of their steak presented on a plate. They were personal challenges, guaranteed to give you the "meats sweats", as we used to say at university, and a minor rite of passage to consume.

It's meat in that proportion that makes me think the World Health Organisation has a point in its latest advisory that red meat is a "probable" cancer causer, while processed meats are apparently as deadly as asbestos.

Personally, I think just about everything causes cancer, including oxygen, and scientists are constantly coming up with the percentage risk of whether certain food items are carcinogenic. What causes cancer is something of an unpredictable lottery, almost an academic exercise for researchers.


I don't think we should be too hard on meat. Scientists believe our evolution to sentience is thanks to eating protein that comes with being meat-eaters. But at the same time we all instinctively know that meat in large quantities never really works well. It could be an experience eating a 48-ounce (1.3kg) steak, but you know you're not going to feel good. Generally, we are still not designed for meat in large quantities, so your body will degrade over time if that's your practice.

But the reality is the slim lottery of cancer is swamped by all the obvious things we do completely wrong which shorten our life span. Many people, long before bowel cancer could ever claim them, will already be painfully struggling with poor blood circulation, obesity, diabetes and heart disease, all from things they've eaten, drank or smoked. Many will die before their time because of these issues, not because of cancer.

So don't be too hard on the bacon and sausages. It is worthy we treat meat in moderation, and remember our omnivore heritage. But there are better things to worry about when it comes to what we eat.