Local chefs say most red meat is not harmful if eaten in moderation

Carnivores, can you imagine a world without bacon?

A study released last week by cancer researchers at the World Health Organization struck fear in the hearts of meat lovers everywhere when it classified processed meat as a carcinogen and concluded red meat is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Does that mean America’s love affair with bacon, burgers and hot dogs is doomed?

Not if you’re looking at life from a burger joint kitchen, like Boca Raton’s MEAT Eatery & Taproom. That’s where chef/co-owner George Patti makes his own bacon, a process that takes 12 to 14 days as the pork belly is cured in a mix of salt, brown sugar, rosemary and garlic then smoked over cherry wood.

“We don’t use nitrates,” says Patti, referring to the chemicals found in standard commercial curing salts. But he knows his meat-centric menu falls under the scope of the WHO researchers, who reviewed more than 800 studies conducted on the link between meat and cancers in the past 20 years.

The researchers agreed red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb and goat) may cause colorectal, pancreatic or prostate cancer.

Perhaps most emphatically, those 22 cancer experts from 10 countries concluded that the consumption of processed meats – like ham, hot dogs, corned beef, sausages, canned meat and beef jerky – causes colorectal cancer. This is because the curing and smoking of meats can produce cancer-causing chemicals, they found. And the highest amount of these chemicals are produced when meats are cooked at high temperatures, they said.

To which chef Patti says: “Oh my God. Everything causes cancer.”

A thought echoed by Aaron Merullo, a meat lover who operates the PS561 hot dog truck in Palm Beach County.

“Everything is bad for us and causes cancer,” says the hot dog chef whose retro-inspired creations are topped with everything from crushed potato chips to Fritos, adobo sauce to cucumber slaw. “The FDA and WHO scold us for enjoying red meat once in a while. Meanwhile, our government is polluting our air, water supplies, and soil, and poisoning is with prescription drugs. But that’s another story.”

Merullo serves all-beef, New York-style Sabrett hot dogs, smoked turkey franks and veggie dogs. And, sure, he indulges in his food truck’s fare, as well as bacon, burgers and steaks, he says. “I also eat a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and veggies. Everything in moderation, even the unhealthy stuff.”

Another local chef and unabashed carnivore agrees.

“I’m a pretty meaty guy,” says chef Fritz Cassel of Hullabaloo gastro pub in downtown West Palm Beach, “but I eat a ton of vegetables. I’m an omnivore. Humans are omnivores by nature.”

He’s a chef who always has a slab of pork curing in kosher salt and sugar for house-made bacon, a guy who adds a thick slice of pork belly in his BLTs, a chef who regularly adds beefy dishes to his menus. In fact, he just put a Wagyu beef cheek ravioli on the menu, a dish he dresses with veal demi-glaze, roasted artichoke and heirloom tomatoes.

“I’m going to enjoy meat as long as I can,” says the chef, who adds an important caveat: “I try to source all natural products, and make sure no hormones or antibiotics have been administered. Just knowing where your meat comes from makes a big difference, I think.”

Chef Patti agrees. At his eatery, he uses meats raised with no hormones or antibiotics. These details have become increasingly important to his diners, he says.

“People now care about where the meat comes from. People are asking me about this all the time,” he says.

This consumer interest in meat quality is music to the ears of Jupiter holistic physician Ken Grey.

“We know there is a difference between corn-fed meat and grass-fed meat, and a difference between organic and non-organic meats,” says Dr. Grey, an acupuncturist at Jupiter Medical Center and author of holistic cookbooks.

He urges the public to put the new findings in a much larger context. “We have to stop taking things at face value,” he says. “I’m not going to say that eating red meat is what’s causing the cancer. It’s a higher consumption of acid and poor digestion that’s the problem. It’s not the meat.”

Because cancer thrives in an acidic environment, a healing diet calls for more alkaline elements, such as green, leafy vegetables, he says. Your ideal plate should include two or three vegetables that are not cooked to the point of mush, he says. And your diet should be supplemented with enzymes and probiotics to aid healthy digestion.

A great enemy of meat digestion? Antacids, he says. They interfere with the digestion of proteins and simply mask symptoms, he says.

Grey is a carnivore whose cookbook recipes include meat dishes like oxtail stew. But he will make no case for bacon. “There’s (nitrate-free) bacon that’s less harmful, but is it beneficial? No.”

He points to some Old World cultures and their moderate use of meats, advocating a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern diet over “the old meat-and-potato idea, which is very harmful.”

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