There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.
And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldn’t miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, “Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER.” The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that “Processed meats do cause cancer”, while the Sun went with “Banger out of Order” and “Killer in the Kitchen”.
The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that “processed meats” were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was “sufficient” evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.
Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that “eat less processed meat”, much like “eat more vegetables”, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice – not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco – leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.
Read the full story at The Guardian.