Dan Murphy: Mangled Meat Myths

Dieticians and nutritionists make some unfounded claims. ( FJ )

What do nutritionists do for fun? When they’re not scolding us for snacking, overeating and making unhealthy choices, that is. Answer: list and then trash some food-related assumptions.

Having spent decades researching and writing about meat, poultry and food-related subjects, I can confirm that of all the stuffy scientists, self-important academics and super-geeky techno-nerds I had to interview over the years, the most contentious, yet compelling, conversations were with nutritionists and dieticians.

Compelling, because diet and health issues are such a fascinating combination of art, science and history. Contentious, because the discussions almost always descended into a thinly veiled condemnation of eating meat, and by extension, raising livestock.

A prototypical example a recent article on HuffPost.com titled, “9 Meat Myths Nutritionists Wish You Would Stop Believing,” which presumes that a majority of consumers actually believe the site’s list of suppositions.

Some of which are simply outdated, if they ever were widely accepted. For example, Myth No. 6: “If you don’t eat meat, you won’t get enough protein.”

Very few people believe that statement anymore, not with the deluge of pro-veggie/vegan media coverage that has inundated both conventional news sources, as well as online info-sites. If there is one successful accomplishment that vegetarian activists and their dietician supporters have managed, it’s disabusing people of the idea that they desperately need meat to obtain sufficient protein for good health.

In fact, this entire article consists of setting up what logicians call “straw men,” meaning a statement created specifically because it’s inaccurate, and thus easy to knock down or debunk.

Here’s the worst of the bunch, according to HuffPost.com.

  •  Myth No.1: “All red meat is bad for you.” Shockingly, that’s not true! It turns out that only processed red meat products are truly dangerous, virtually guaranteeing an early and painful death. Unprocessed beef and pork, conversely, are merely detrimental to one’ health and should be limited to occasional consumption, kind of like how eggnog is served only during the holiday season.
  • Myth No. 3: “What the cows eat doesn’t make a difference.” Really? Even low-information consumers have at least a rudimentary understanding that “you are what you eat,” and nobody, but nobody, believes that dietary choices have no impact on health. But this myth assumes facts not in evidence, as lawyers like to say, namely that meat from grassfed cattle contains much higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. That might be significant if the same nutritionists debunking this (alleged) myth weren’t also insisting that people restrict their consumption of red meat, period!
  • Myth No. 4: “It doesn’t matter how you cook the meat.” Whoa there, grillmaster. The connection — uh, make that the “strong association” — between grilling beef or pork and the risk of cancer, according to modern dieticians, means that you might as well junk that barbecue you spent a week’s wages purchasing. These “suggestive studies” exploring the cancer risk, plus the fact that since the dawn of time, humans have never, ever cooked meat over an open fire, ought to be convincing enough to swear off grilling meat, and while you’re at it, consuming any of it, period.

There’s plenty more in this artificially constructed laundry list of fabricated mythology, but suffice to say that the underlying theme is crystal clear: No matter what you know, no matter what you believe, you should limit and/or curtail completely the consumption of beef, pork and lamb.

That, my friends, is the only legitimate myth on the list. And the only one that needs no debunking.

The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and commentator.