The meat of the matter


Living healthy and eating well are important aspects of being a student here at the University of San Diego.

USD promotes a healthy lifestyle through its exercise classes, Outdoor Adventures programs, and many food options available in the dining areas.

As is common among young adults in today’s ever-changing and heavily influential society, I have changed my dietary habits a lot over the past few years. Through the vegetarianism, pescetarianism, and clean eating periods of my life, I’ve made it my goal to stay informed on the current research supporting my decisions.

Recently, there has been a lot of speculation and buzz surrounding the subject of what’s being put in our meat, and consequently, what we are putting in our bodies.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) sent out a press release which stated the cancerous effects of consuming red meat and processed meats. While red meat may be linked to the disease, processed meats have been scientifically proven to cause colon cancer.

“The experts concluded that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent,” the press release said.

That statistic is astounding, especially taking into consideration the amount of processed meats and food in general that Americans consume. An average hot dog weighs about 38 grams, and the famous Los Angeles Dodger Dog totals 77 grams. According to these findings, these favorites of tailgates, family barbeques, and easy summer meals have been identified as contributors to expedited mortality.

Since the information was released, there have been concerns about the severity of the risk of cancer caused by meat, especially in comparison to cancer from tobacco. The International Agency for Research on Cancer compiled evidence for the study. They reported that, even though processed meat is directly linked to deaths caused by cancer, it is not as dangerous as using tobacco products.

This year, deaths from cancer associated with high-meat diets were estimated at 34,000, while those from cancer caused from tobacco were around one million. To say eating processed meat is as bad as smoking cigarettes would be an exaggeration, but these numbers are still something to cause concern.

The intake of processed meat is something many people were aware of even before the study was released. However, the study’s findings have confirmed the risk, making the issue even more prevalent.

Senior Jonathan Maresca shared his thoughts on the presence of processed meat in daily consumption.

“Meat has been a staple of my diet for my entire life and humans have used meat as a source of vital energy, vitamins, and nutrients for thousands of years,” Maresca said. “Even so, meat was never meant to be produced in such a massive global scale and preserved for weeks or months on grocery store shelves. […] I believe that naturally-raised, unprocessed livestock eaten in moderation is key.”

We’ve heard it said that we are what we eat. But what if what we eat is also what we are?

A recent study completed by Clear Food, a research group, revealed that two percent of hot dogs and sausages from the brands tested contained human DNA.

While such a small percentage is usually something easily shrugged off, this one can’t be. It is absurd that we should find any traces of human DNA in our food.

The study also showed that 10 percent of vegetarian products contained some traces of meat. This raises questions for people on special diets who buy these products and unknowingly consume the very ingredients they are trying to avoid.

Junior Ileane Polis has been a pescatarian, a person who eats fish but not red or white meat, for a year, and wasn’t surprised by these findings.

“I’m so grossed out by the fact that there’s human DNA in stuff in general, though I’m not surprised by the meat in supposedly vegetarian products,” Polis said. “Many plants that process meat products process non-meat products on the same machines, so it’s kind of expected.”

With all of this research hitting the fan at the same time, it brings to light some of the major issues in today’s food-centric world.

College students especially tend to lean toward buying easy-to-make processed and packaged foods. We lead busy lives, so sometimes a fry-in-a-pan sausage or veggie burger seems to be a better option than preparing and cooking an elaborate meal from scratch.

USD offers options for healthier food on campus, many of which are meat-free or contain non-processed meat.

Maresca said that, when looking for something to eat at one of the locations on campus, he feels confident that there are healthy options.

“La Paloma’s Tuna Nicoise salad, SLP’s Rosemary Chicken sandwich, Tu Mercado’s Caprese, etc. all offer unprocessed meat options,” Maresca said. “Of course, there is room for improvement. The school does not advertise whether their red meat is grass-fed or generally processed in any capacity. […] An increase in the unprocessed meats and vegetarian options is a crucial step in light of the WHO study.”

While bombarded with information about what eating healthy means or doesn’t mean, it is important to focus on the facts. A healthy diet varies from individual to individual, but knowing what is in our food is key to knowing what we are doing to our bodies.

Fortunately, there are options available on campus for non-processed meals and for all the various dietary restrictions. Taking a little more time to think about what you pick up at the store can lead to major health benefits in the long run.