Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hot Dogs = Cancer Risk Lawsuit

Photo courtesy of Sarah Lewis.

Did you hear about this? The Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine is suing several hot dog companies over requiring a warning label stating the link between processed meats and cancer risk.

Please take the time to read the story as posted on the Meat Institute's web site (my comments follow):

Meat Institute urges court to dismiss ‘nuisance’ hotdog lawsuit

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 23-Jul-2009

The American Meat Institute has urged a New Jersey court to dismiss a lawsuit from vegan advocacy group Cancer Project that claims hotdogs should carry a cancer warning label.

The Cancer Project, an affiliate of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said it is acting on behalf of three New Jersey residents and has filed a class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, arguing that hotdogs should carry the following label: “Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer" on the back of recent studies that have linked the consumption of processed meat with higher cancer risk.

The five companies being sued at the Essex County Superior Court are Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods/Oscar Mayer, Sara Lee, Con Agra Foods, and Marathon Enterprises.

President of the Cancer Project Neal Barnard said: "Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer. Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."

But the American Meat Institute (AMI) has rejected the move as a “nuisance”.

"We hope the court will move quickly to review the science affirming the safety of hot dogs and processed meats and dismiss this lawsuit, recognizing it for the nuisance that it is," said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. "Meat products are regulated and inspected by USDA and bear the federal government's seal of inspection, showing they are wholesome and nutritious.”

Conflicting science

Studies that have linked processed meat with cancer risk have often focused on nitrates and nitrites which are used as preservatives. However, these also occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, and recent studies have even linked the much maligned additives to improved cardiovascular health.

However, the Cancer Project cited a report from the American Institute for Cancer Research which claimed that a daily 50-gram serving of processed meat – about the amount in one hot dog – consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by an average of 21 percent.

“The nitrites often used as a preservative can produce compounds that are suspected carcinogens. The bottom line is that science has tied processed meat consumption to increased cancer risk. That’s why hot dogs should be avoided,” the organization said.

However, other scientific reviews, including one from Harvard University in 2004 that examined 14 previous studies, have not found the same link.

Commenting on his own study into the additives, Dr Nathan Bryan, an expert on nitrates and nitrites from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said: “The public perception is that nitrites and nitrates are carcinogens but they are not. Many studies implicating nitrite and nitrate in cancer are based on very weak epidemiological data. If nitrite and nitrate were harmful to us, then we would not be advised to eat green leafy vegetables or swallow our own saliva, which is enriched in nitrate."


If this weren't so outrageous, it would be just ridiculous. So, essentially, the Meat Institute is ignoring research that links consumption of processed meats with colon cancer, and actually have the nerve to turn it around to suggest that fruits and vegetables share one nutritional similarity to processed meats, and therefore processed meats are not any more dangerous to consume than fruits and vegetables.

This is absurd on so many levels. Where do I start?

First of all, I have to say, I got a little snicker out of them saying that this is a "nuisance." Well, that much is true. Who would want to put a label on their goods that translates to "DON'T BUY ME"? Yes, I agree this is a nuisance to the meat institute.

Second, the argument that nitrites and nitrates are in fruits and vegetables too, well, that's seriously flawed logic. According to an article published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists are starting to question the toxicity of nitrates and nitrites to humans, suggesting even a protective benefit. I can buy that, if the studies pan out. The authors DO state, however (and I quote): "It is reasonable to conclude that all food sources of
nitrate and nitrite are not equal with regard to potential health benefits or risks." [Hord N, Tang Y, Bryan N. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90(1):1-10] But even if it were discovered that nitrates and nitrites are Miracle Nutrients, eating more hot dogs is not the answer. Regardless of the true dangers/benefits of dietary nitrate/-ite, the fact still remains that high intakes of processed meats are associated with an increased risk of cancer. Period. Maybe scientiests incorrectly hypothesized the reasons for this association, but the association still exists.

Third, I take issue with the statement, "Meat products are regulated and inspected by USDA and bear the federal government's seal of inspection, showing they are wholesome and nutritious." Seriously? How much meat do you think is actually inspected by the USDA? According to an ABC News Story, a minimum of one chicken per 22,000 per week is tested for the dangerous E. coli 015H7; and inspectors only test a minimum of one of 300 beef carcasses per week. Have you seen the movie Food Inc.? Apparently the USDA is fine with fecal matter all over its meat. But really this is a topic for a whole different post.

Fourth, and most obvious, the group that stands to suffer the most (the Meat Institute and its members) is the one most loudly complaining about the labeling.

So what do you think? Is a lawsuit the way to go? Is it fair for the government to require such a warning, like they do for tobacco? I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ding-Dong! Feeding unexpected guests

So you're vacuuming your living room or paying bills, and the phone rings. It's your friend saying that she's in town so how about if she stops by for a quick visit? "I'll be there in 5!"

Being the fun-loving, nurturing foodie that you are, you want to have something yummy on the ready. But you're no Bree Van de Kamp so chances are you don't have freshly baked blueberry muffins on your cooling rack. What to do?

I actually love when people (veg*n or not) drop over unexpectedly. (For one thing, just the thought motivates me to keep the house presentable.) Years ago, I would struggle with what to serve; I never felt prepared. Nowadays I have a secret stash of non-perishable (or easily replaced) "emergency guest food" and it pays off when I see the look of delight on my guest's face when they're served instant (but special) nibbles. Here are my ideas:

1. Keep a can of stuffed grape leaves in your pantry. You'd be surprised how many people love these things, or have never tried them and discover they love them. They're best with fresh lemon slices, but don't fret if you have none on hand. Right out of the can (they're also good gently heated), arrange prettily on a small platter and hand out cocktail napkins. If you have hummus in the fridge, throw some in a little bowl for dipping.

2. Keep at least 2 bottles of sparkling water, and some sort of fruit juice. Refrigerated juice eventually spoils -- not true for canned juice (like pineapple or Goya Nectars) or juice boxes/aseptic-pack juice. A fruit juice (or white wine) spritzer is a lovely, refreshing beverage for a wary traveler. Don't forget to keep ice in the freezer (and despite what my dad thinks, you don't need an ice maker hogging your freezer space. Old fashioned ice cube trays work just fine.)

3. Have a bag of chips (which last a few weeks unopened) and a jar of salsa ready. I recently discovered Trader Joes Organic Corn Chip Dippers. They are essentially organic Fritos and they are fantastic. If you have the space, keep a jar of black bean dip too. When my "guest stash" is a few weeks old, I replace it and open the old one for my family and use them for Nacho Night. Salty, crunchy heaven.

4. Always keep sliced up raw vegetables in the fridge. For you and your family, of course; but who says you can't share with guests? Serve with hummus or black bean dip (see tip #3) and nut butter. If you have a container of mock sour cream, blend it with an envelope of dip mix (check the label -- get one without MSG, such as Simply Organic).

5. A vacuum-sealed can of salted, roasted cashews isn't as healthy as raw cashews, but it lasts a lot longer in your pantry and will make your guests feel pampered.

6. Tea. Yes, a no-brainer; do have a selection of caffeinated, non caffeinated, and herbal. If you're not a frequent tea drinker, buy a variety pack of individually-wrapped bags (the wrapper can be recycled with the paper).

If you are given an hour's advance notice...

1. Keep a box of (preferably organic) baking mix in the pantry, or mix together the dry ingredients for your favorite quick bread or muffin recipe, stored in a baggie (make sure the recipe is taped to the bag!). In minutes, your house will smell like a bakery.

2. Now that affordable vegan marshmallows are readily available, keep a box of crispy rice and the marshmallows (hide from the kids and/or the husband) and margarine on hand. They take only a few minutes to make. Who wouldn't love being greeted by the scent of just-made rice krispy treats? (Who cares if they're not "set" yet? They're great warm and gooey too.)

3. Got veggie dogs in fridge? Or soy meat balls in the freezer? This idea works for both. Mix together bbq sauce and any flavor of jam/jelly (really any without seeds... grape jelly always works) at a ratio of 2:1 in a small saucepan. If using veggie dogs, slice them into cocktail size, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks. If using soy balls, defrost in the microwave or in boiling water, heat with sauce, and serve with toothpicks.

4. Got space in the freezer? Vegan options for heat-and-eat hors d'oeuvres are on the rise. How about some mushroom bites? Or Health Is Wealth Line of veggie Munchies? Try the "Egg" Rolls, Potstickers, and my personal fave, the Buffalo Wings. You can also make your own fancy vegan appetizers, and freeze them for those unexpected drop-ins.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Petting Zoo Rant

I Hate Confrontation. I really do. So it was really hard for me to write a letter to the director of my son's camp, explaining why I'm keeping him home from camp. Tomorrow, there will be a petting zoo. I'd like to share my letter with you. What do you think?

July 9, 2009

Dear ____,

I’m writing to compliment you and your staff on an exceptionally well-run camp; Benjamin is having an amazing time. He loves his counselors and other children, and tells me excitedly about all the projects and activities he partakes in. ____ and ____ are such great leaders; my husband and I have been very impressed with everything.

I’m also writing because I wanted to express why I’m keeping Ben home tomorrow. There will be a petting zoo, and I do not want him exposed to it. Please allow me to explain. As a vegetarian, Ben has an acute understanding that people eat animals, and that they first must be killed. If he sees and touches those animals, and then sees kids eating sandwiches made from the same animals they just touched and loved, it will be an emotional experience for him, to say the least.

Animals used for petting zoos live lives of confinement and fear, and are repeatedly poked and prodded by strangers. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. Farm animals are not dogs; they don’t run and play with children.

We are teaching Ben that it is our responsibility to show animals the respect they deserve. Since exploitation may be too advanced a concept for Ben, I would rather expose him to things like zoos and circuses later, when he is able to critically analyze his own feelings about them.

I am also concerned about the health risks of contact with farm animals. According to the Humane Society:

“In December 2002, Pennsylvania passed a bill requiring petting zoos and other animal exhibitions to provide hand-washing facilities and to post information about the more than 75 diseases humans can contract from contact with animals. The impetus for the bill was a an outbreak of E. coli in 2000 among visitors, most of them children, to a Montgomery County petting zoo. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 55 cases of E. coli were confirmed, and 16 people were hospitalized. One child, a four-year-old girl, required a kidney transplant from her father.

“According to the CDC, each year an estimated 73,000 people become ill and 61 people die from the potentially life-threatening bacteria, E. coli O157:H7. Although many cases are due to contaminated food and water, transmission of E. coli from animals to people is a growing concern. Several recent outbreaks at petting zoos across the country have prompted the CDC to issue federal safety guidelines to animal attractions that allow human-animal contact.”

For the health of our children and to make a statement respecting fellow sentient beings, I hope you will reconsider using petting zoos in future years.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Dina Aronson

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vegetarians have less cancer

(Photo courtesy of Raven3K)

Well, we are already aware of this, mostly from population studies, but a recent study involving close to 62,000 adult participants (about half of whom are classified as vegetarian) found that that vegetarians developed less cancer -- specifically of the blood, bladder, skin, and stomach.

The study, which is published in the British Journal of Cancer, divided the people into three groups: meat eaters, those who ate fish but no meat ("pescatarians"), and vegetarians.

Given that eggs and dairy products are not protective against cancer (and might raise the risk), the findings make quite a powerful statement for the exclusion of meat, which is, at the end of the day, the only thing that separated the meat eaters from the vegetarians. Note that fish consumption did NOT offer cancer prevention benefits over its avoidance in this study. I would love to know the rates of cancer among vegans; this was not measured.

One of the big challenges with doing this sort of comparison study is that it is not really that descriptive to label oneself as a "vegetarian" or "meat-eater" because the latter could indeed consume more fruits and vegetables than the former.

Picture two groups of people: one that at a completely vegan diet, and one that ate a meat-containing one. But here is how they eat:

The Omnivore:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts, flax, dates, and strawberries
Lunch: Big green salad with olive oil/balsamic, whole grain crackers, and a cup of low-fat yogurt
Snack: Fresh fruit
Dinner: Stir fry with onions, broccoli, carrots, sliced almonds, and shrimp, with brown rice

The Vegan:

Breakfast: New York-style salt bagel with soy margarine, coffee with sugar and nondairy creamer
Lunch: Soy turkey sandwich on white with Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos (yup, they're vegan)
Snack: Vegan chocolate chip cookies
Dinner: White pasta with marinara, chicken-style gluten strips, iceberg lettuce salad with Kraft creamy Italian (yup, it's vegan)

Obviously this is an exaggeration, but I hope I've made my point. Which group do you think is better protected from cancer? It's very difficult to study the health benefits of an eating style that can take on so many different varieties regarding healthfulness of its constituents.

What we really need to see is the RELATIVE IMPACT of both meat avoidance AND fruit/vegetable inclusion, to really demonstrate the powerful benefits of a healthful vegan diet based on whole plant foods.