My brother sent an email out to the family this week inviting us to his Third Annual Memorial Day Weekend Pork Fest. Each year, he fires up his smoker on Sunday morning, does whatever he does to flavor and season the pork shoulder (from a humanely raised animal, of course), and by the time the meat is finished cooking that evening, it melts in your mouth. My teenage sons, who don’t eat a lot of meat here at home, start salivating around the second week of May in anticipation.
I got the invitation just after I’d read an article referencing a recent study in the Journal of Cancer Research. In the study, it was found that Americans eat an average of 195 pounds of meat a year, with men eating much more than women. One of the conclusions drawn from this study was that men overwhelmingly tend to see eating meat as something that enhances their masculinity.
Lacking the levels of testosterone my sons exude (to a degree one can literally smell), I asked them what they thought of this.
Their looks came back puzzled. “That’s crazy. We just like meat.”
Well, my boys also think a lot of the currently held assumptions about food, education, politics, society, etc. are crazy, and I’m hopeful they and their generation will lead us down some different paths in a few years. But it did get me wondering what it is about the connection between men and meat that seems to have a certain truth to it. Real men don’t eat quiche, after all.
Riddhi Shah, an editorial fellow at Salon.com asked these questions a couple of years ago in an article she wrote for the online magazine. She spoke with Marcia Pelchat, a sensory psychologist specializing in food and beverage selection at the Monell Chemical Senses Center who claims that there are indeed differences between the taste buds of men and women. According to Pelchat, women, for instance, are simply genetically programmed to prefer sweeter tastes, while men prefer more bitter ones. Yale University’s David Katz believes that evolution plays a major role in determining what we eat. Men, having inherited a hunter spirit from their distant ancestors, view meat as a reward. And in order to build muscle mass, they need more protein than women.
Maybe so, but clearly the meat we consume today is nothing like the meat our hunter ancestors chased, killed, and consumed. We live in the age of industrial farming, where meat comes from animals that are raised in slaughterhouses, animals that live out their miserable days standing in their own waste while eating foods that aren’t natural to them. The meat comes to us compromised, tainted by pink slime treated with ammonia and “meat glue,” which is, as the Chicago Tribune reported, “an enzyme that binds formerly unconnected pieces of meat to make them look like one solid chunk.”
Doesn’t sound very manly to me.
Neither do the studies that make some very compelling arguments for the links between the consumption of meat and the incidence of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine concluded that eating red meat is associated with a greatly increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease. Using data from two studies that involved 121,342 men and women from 1980 through 2006, they found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat indicated a 12 percent greater risk of death – broken down, this indicated a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of death from cancer. When the meat consumed was processed meat like bacon, the numbers climbed considerably higher, to a 20 percent greater risk of death.
So, if men need protein, and women maybe less so, and we want to avoid these huge risks of death from meat consumption, what are we to do? In my blog article last week, someone posted a comment about the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s proposed alternative to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. He said that the PCRM’s “Power Plate” graphic could be “grossly misleading,” because it doesn’t include adequate requirements for protein.
Based on my own research and personal experience, I strongly believe the graphic provides more than adequate sources of protein. Legumes, which comprise 25% of the Power Plate, are the best meat “replacement” when looking for plant-based sources of protein. Eat a cup of cooked lentils, for example, and you’ll get 18 grams of protein – almost as much as you would in a three ounce serving of steak, but without the added fat and calories. Beans, seeds, raw nuts and natural nut butters all provide great sources of protein. If you eat a few servings a day of these – plus your greens, grains like quinoa, and maybe an egg or two if you’re not vegan – you can easily get your daily recommended amount of protein without eating meat.
But do we really need the amount of protein the USDA recommends in the first place? And why does the USDA recommend it? (If you want some food for thought on this topic, read last week’s article about the Department’s connections with the dairy lobby, and see if you believe there might be some similarities when it comes to the meat industry, too.)
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live and member of the PCRM, thinks we’ve been led to believe we need more protein than we really do. In his book Disease-Proof Your Child he says, “In the 1950s, human protein requirement studies were first conducted that demonstrated that adults require twenty to thirty-five grams of protein per day. Today, the average American consumes 100 – 120 grams of protein per day, mostly in the form of animal products. People who eat a completely vegetarian diet (vegan) have been found to consume sixty to eighty grams of protein a day, well above the minimum requirement.”
He also makes the interesting observation that “in North America, about 70% of dietary protein comes from animal foods. Worldwide, plants provide 84% of the calories.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine insists that by eating more of the high-nutrient, low-calorie foods proposed by the Power Plate, we get plenty of protein, plus the higher amount of nutrients that are shown to fight heart disease and cancer.
Debates about our need for and sources of protein will continue, and far be it from the Wellness Wordsmith to claim the definitive answer. But it’s hard to deny the reality that the excessive meat consumption all too common in our society leads to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and death.
Doesn’t sound very manly to me.
I hope that my sons continue to view eating a high nutrient diet not as just the manly thing to do, but the humane and human thing to do as well. That doesn’t mean they can’t eat their (humanely raised) pork on Memorial Day. But if masculinity means anything, I should think it would be associated with health and vitality. Health and vitality are what I want for my sons, and for their sons – and daughters.
Thanks, as always, for reading my blog! If you want more information about what I do, check out my website at The Wellness Wordsmith.
You know, one very efficient way to get those high nutrient foods into your system is by drinking my favorite meal of all time, the green smoothie. But just this week it was brought to my attention that there are concerns that eating leafy greens, especially consuming them in smoothies, can be dangerous because of their oxalate content.
Argh! Is there NOTHING on this planet we can just eat and feel 100% good about???
Well, I’m not sure about that, but OF COURSE I do have some thoughts about this, and I plan to write about it next Friday. See you then!