In this week’s edition of Banter M:
Why The WHO’s Meat Announcement is a Game Changer – Ben Cohen explains why the World Health Organization’s dramatic announcement that cured and red meats cause cancer could be the start of something huge.
Goodbye Kitty – Chez Pazienza writes a heartfelt goodbye to his friend.
Trigger Warnings Are Great — If You Want To Run Away From Your Anxiety And Depression- Jamie Frevele explains why coddled students desperately need to deal with real life.
Why the WHO’s Meat Announcement is a Game Changer
by Ben Cohen
While it has been common knowledge for those attuned to their own health and aware of how foods affect the human body, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that processed and red meats are basically toxic to the human body and can cause cancer.
This was an incredibly important event in modern human history, not just for our own health, but that of the planet, as I shall attempt to explain.
Firstly, it is important to understand how and why the WHO reached their dramatic conclusion. Here was how the Washington Post reported the event:
In reaching its conclusion [the WHO], the panel sought to quantify the risks, and compared to carcinogens such as cigarettes, the magnitude of the danger appears small, experts said. The WHO panel cited studies suggesting that an additional 3.5 ounces of red meat everyday raises the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent; eating an additional 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily raises the risk by 18 percent, according to the research cited.
“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Kurt Straif, an official with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which produced the report. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”
Of course there are many, many environmental and dietary factors that can lead to cancer – so many that it is now impossible to keep track of everything that could potentially kill you. It is also true that the relative risk of eating cured meats (classed by the WHO as a ‘group 1 carcinogen’) isn’t actually all that bad compared to other group 1 carcinogens, like say, tobacco. As Sarah Zang in Wired writes:
Smoking increases your relative risk of lung cancer by 2,500 percent; eating two slices of bacon a day increases your relative risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, that means your risk of getting colorectal cancer over your life goes from about 5 percent to 6 percent and, well, YBMMV. (Your bacon mileage may vary.) “If this is the level of risk you’re running your life on, then you don’t really have much to worry about,” says Alfred Neugut, an oncologist and cancer epidemiologist at Columbia.
While the relative risk might be far less, it is the declaration by the World Health Organization that particular food types are a human health hazard, that is worth paying attention to.
We know that beef is roughly 10 times more damaging to the environment that other forms of livestock (although Lamb is reportedly the worst offender pound for pound, but isn’t consumed in nearly the same quantity as beef), and giving it up is likely a more effective way of reducing your carbon footprint than giving up driving. Other meats like pork and chicken also have a significant impact on the environment, using huge amounts of water and energy to produce while stamping out local biodiversity.
So giving up, or cutting down on meat significantly really does help the planet.
Little by little, it seems that western culture is slowly coming around to the very obvious fact that what is bad for us is bad for the planet. The clues are all around us, if you start to pay attention.
In Britain, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has begun a serious campaign to implement a hefty tax on sugar – a substance that has created a serious health epidemic in the nation. Type II diabetes for example, has risen dramatically in the UK, and has been linked directly to the consumption of sugar. It also costs a reported £8.8bn a year to treat, and is fast becoming a matter of not only physical health, but financial too. It should not be surprising that the production of sugar cane is also incredibly environmentally destructive, creating a massive impact on soil quality, eroding bio diversity and requiring vast quantities of water to produce. As the World Wildlife Fund states:
Sugarcane is a water-intensive crop that remains in the soil all year long. As one of the world’s thirstiest crops, sugarcane has a significant impact on many environmentally sensitive regions, like the Mekong Delta and the Atlantic Forest. Historic planting of sugarcane around the world has led to significant impacts on biodiversity.
The fact is, almost everything that is mass produced for mass consumption has a toxic impact on human beings and our natural environment. Even foods that are supposed good for us can be bad if produced using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, the Department of Pathology and Microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1993 reported that “Environmental exposure of humans to agrichemicals is common and results in both acute and chronic health effects”. This includes:
Acute and chronic neurotoxicity (insecticides, fungicides, fumigants), lung damage (paraquat), chemical burns (anhydrous ammonia), and infant methemoglobinemia (nitrate in groundwater). A variety of cancers also have been linked to exposure to various pesticides, particularly hematopoietic cancers. Immunologic abnormalities and adverse reproductive and developmental effects due to pesticides also have been reported.
The devastating effects of agrichemicals on the environment is also well documented, and is widely accepted as fact by the scientific community not funded by big agribusiness. This basic lesson in biology — that chemically produced food is bad for us and the planet — appears to be lost on most people living in western cultures. We have steadfastly refused to acknowledge our interdependence with nature, and seem philosophically incapable of understanding that the human body is simply a microcosm of a much larger living organism: planet earth.
The World Health Organization’s declaration that these environmentally destructive foods are actually destructive to our own bodies is another small step towards a genuinely holistic understanding of our health and that of the planet. While there be will resistance from the meat industry and a host of corporate interests that rely on our continued consumption of environmentally toxic food, we appear to be at a tipping point where we instinctively understand that the status quo cannot go on. The WHO has simply asserted what we already know but need to hear again, and again, and again. Perhaps its status as the world’s leading authority on health will finally provide a catalyst for meaning change in the way we produce and consume food.
Perhaps finally there is cause for real hope, one less bacon sandwich at a time.
by Chez Pazienza
When I was maybe 17-years-old, I watched something die. I was driving home from a late night out with friends and turned down a quiet street near my house, when something caught my eye off in the distance in front of me, just at the edge of my headlights. As I pulled forward slowly and the object drew closer, I realized it was a possum. This was South Florida and as anyone who’s ever lived there can tell you, the place is teeming with every kind of vermin under the sun, so possums weren’t all that unusual in my neighborhood. I’d seen plenty of them before, both alive and as roadkill in the middle of the street, but this one was different. As I finally pulled up almost directly upon it, I could see that although it was bleeding, it was still moving. Somebody had hit it and then driven off.
I stopped in the middle of the street and got out to take a look. The possum was intact but he couldn’t really move; he just twitched a little, his small body no doubt broken from the impact. Possums aren’t exactly adorable animals — they’re basically giant rats — but a wave of sadness and sympathy came over me immediately and I realized I couldn’t just leave the little guy in the middle of the street to die. My mind raced briefly, wondering if there might be a 24-hour animal hospital I could take him to, but really who’s going to try to save a possum? As he continued to lie there helplessly, I walked back to my car and grabbed a heavy jacket from the backseat — to protect myself from the teeth of an injured animal should it come to that — then came back to the possum, wrapped him up to very little in the way of protest and carried him over to the grassy swale on the side of the street. After parking my car, I returned to the possum and just sat down with him, removing the jacket.
For a while, the little possum continued to twitch, the occasional grunt escaping its bloodied mouth. But as the time passed — me just sitting beside it, lightly wiping an old bandana I had over its back, which I hoped would at least feel somewhat good — the animal’s movements became languid and the sounds it made began to cease. A little while later, the possum was gone.
This past Sunday night, my fiancee’s cat died. Her name was Zooey and Taryn had had her since she was a kitten — 18 long years. Throughout the last maybe year or so, her weight had dropped a bit but nothing about her behavior changed and she didn’t look or seem at all unhealthy. We just chalked it up to her highly advanced age. On Friday of last week, though, I went to pick her up and realized that underneath that fur coat, I could feel bones poking through almost everywhere. Very quickly her weight had plummeted; it was scary. Taryn agreed and made an appointment to take her to the vet on Monday morning. By Saturday morning, we awoke to the sounds of Zooey meowing at the bedroom door, which was something she’d never done before. After a couple of “accidents” involving Taryn’s cats, the two of us had determined that the living room, dining room and kitchen were theirs, but the bedroom was ours and it was off limits to anything with four legs. So Zooey wanting to get in was odd.
Just for the hell of it, I let her in and she did nothing more than slowly examine the surroundings as if she’d never seen them before. But after a few minutes I picked her up and put her back out in the living room. Later that afternoon, Taryn noticed she was drooling and that the saliva surrounding her mouth had a peculiar — and not very pleasant — odor to it. She still didn’t seem to be in any pain because she went back to lounging on her cat bed as she always did. The following morning, however, after a few quiet meows at the bedroom door again, Zooey shuffled very slowly around the apartment, seeming to drag her back legs slightly as she moved. Taryn picked her up and put her in the sink in the bathroom then bathed her in warm water. Maybe it was the relaxation of it or maybe she just felt safe in the arms of the woman who’d taken care of her for years, but during that bath she could barely keep her head up. When it was over, Taryn wrapped her in a towel and laid down with the cat on her chest. Zooey hardly moved.
Taryn and I talked about taking Zooey to a pet emergency room, but the financial impact of something like that was an unfortunate consideration. So, worried sick about the condition of the first cat she ever adopted — a now very old cat — Taryn chose to try to make it through the night and get to the vet first thing in the morning. She had to go to work that night, which concerned her even more because she didn’t want to be away from Zooey, but I made it clear that I’d be home all night and would keep an eye on her condition. Taryn had already laid the towel with Zooey in it down onto the cat bed and since then Zooey had just kind of laid there, not really moving much but still conscious. When Taryn finally went to work, I sat down on the floor next to the cat and took a closer look at her. My first thought was that I couldn’t see her surviving the night. She seemed so weak and frail. But she was breathing steadily and she responded when I spoke her name, so I hoped for the best.
As the night progressed, Zooey’s condition deteriorated. She still breathed regularly but those breaths became smaller, her belly barely rising. Her eyes were fixed directly in front of her and wouldn’t move. I laid next to her on the floor, scratching her head and running my fingers over her thin frame, trying to comfort her. When Taryn texted and asked how she was doing, I told her nothing had changed; my fiancee was at work and didn’t need to break down in front of her coworkers or the general public. In time, the cat’s breaths slowed to a crawl and without moving she began taking occasional gulps of air. She did this for a few minutes, then took one last gulp and that was it. She didn’t move again.
Two hours later I picked Taryn up at the train station and hugged her tightly. As soon as she saw me approaching her she knew what had happened.
Zooey was a really good cat.
I’ll admit it: I cried when that possum died. Probably because I’d never actually seen anything die right in front of me before. I’d been to more than one funeral, but there was something so personal and momentous about witnessing something’s last moments alive, even if that something was just a small animal most people wouldn’t give a second look to. Also, maybe, as absolutely ridiculous as this sounds, I’m glad I was there with him in those final moments. He probably had no idea what was going on since, again, he was just a possum, but still — I wanted to believe he appreciated it. I guess I just didn’t want him to die alone in the middle of the street. Most lives, even the most seemingly insignificant, deserve a little dignity in death. They deserve somebody to care for them, even if they don’t realize it’s happening.
I took the bandana that I’d been using to run over the still soft coat of the possum and tucked it underneath the animal, covering it almost completely. Then I got in my car and left. When I drove by the place I’d left him in the morning, he was already gone.
Trigger Warnings Are Great — If You Want To Run Away From Your Anxiety And Depression
by Jamie Frevele
The increasing prevalence of “trigger warnings” on college campuses that are intended to protect students from having to confront things that give them emotional ouchies, but as The Atlantic pointed out recently, shielding young adults from such things is actually detrimental to their mental health. Whittling even perceived “triggers” down to “microaggressions” only increases the number of things that some want to be shielded from. Anyone on the internet can tell you that you can’t say anything that has the smallest possibility of offending the rarest, most specific kind of person without facing a backlash of accusers. An atmosphere like that leaves not just the people choosing to run away from adversity and/or what bothers them the most, but the people who aren’t as sensitive are now paranoid that whatever they say could offend someone and they could become the subject of a backlash. Everybody’s scared! At least a lot of people are.
As someone who was wired since birth to be scared of everything and nothing at the same time, having lived with anxiety and depression that have both gotten severe from time to time, I want to know why these kids are electing to live with this 100 percent nonelective disorder. Why are these kids so keen on volunteering to be mental cases when it makes them absolutely miserable? I say this as a total mental case.
I have been dealing with this nonsense involuntarily for a good 25 years now, and I can tell you, it is not fun! After 25 years of thinking suicide is a totally viable, logical option for when things aren’t going so great; or that on a bad hair day I look like the decaying old, dead woman in the bathroom in The Shining; or the period of months during which I ate dinner in my room only to go to class and feel like I was going to have a panic attack or projectile vomit for absolutely no reason at all; or maybe the time I felt like that so much that I was 5’4″ and weighed 92 pounds (and not even a hot 92 pounds; what a goddamn ripoff). And those are just the highlights! There was a ton of super fun stuff in between, like the fights with my friends, the doomed romances, shouting matches with loved ones, even being told I was crazy on numerous occasions.
So, my question is why would anyone volunteer for something like that? I didn’t choose this. I did, however, choose to learn more about it and treat it. Because all of that stuff really, really, really sucks. By taking so much umbrage over things like microaggressions and controversial speech and art, that’s choosing to feel anger over something. And feeling like you can’t go anywhere without getting angry or upset is squarely at the root of anxiety. You’re creating things in your head that aren’t true because no one actually has the ability to tell the future. While it’s true that there is virulent, unacceptable racism, misogyny, and other horrible things that we say to each other, it’s just not true that everyone who says something insensitive is committing a punishable offense. It’s not cool when our grandparents use the word “colored.” It’s not cool when our fathers say “women should stay in the kitchen.” But it’s not a microaggression when someone asks a Jewish person (or a Muslim, or an atheist, or a wiccan, or any non-Christian) what they’re doing for Christmas. The worst it could possibly be is embarrassing for the person asking the question, but do they need to apologize? No. No, they do not.
Sometimes, oftentimes, people say the wrong things. It doesn’t mean they need to be punished or taught a lesson. Generally, we find out what’s right after getting things wrong a few times. We, as a people, are required to fuck things up before we make progress and it’s not supposed to feel good. Fucking things up means talking about rape in a class when a rape victim might be a student or slavery when a black person is present, but acknowledging that these are things that make our world and its people flawed, ugly, and difficult to talk about is necessary. These are things that happen in real life — as victims will tell you — and they have to be acknowledged. It’s not the same as glorifying or celebrating. We cannot whitewash global culture because a handful of people feels uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable. Let’s talk about it. It will feel like a slimy, uninvited tentacle from an obscure anime or Lady Gaga video is squirming its way into a hole it should really avoid, but in the end, we’ll all be better for allowing it to be confronted. I guess there should have been a trigger warning on that last sentence, but I wanted you folks to feel something so I went ahead and said it without any regards to your special snowflake sensibilities. Deal with it.
I have actually come across friends of mine who have said they can’t enjoy any of their pop culture because they’re just too offended. There are too many problems, people won’t apologize, and nothing is enjoyable because everything is causing pain. Don’t get me wrong; there is a lot of room for pop culture to evolve on things, especially when it concerns women, minorities, and sexual identity. (Really, all we want is to be treated like people. Please and thank you.) But what has to happen is exposure. And then a conversation. That’s how therapy treats anxiety and depression — you train your brain to do different things. And the great news about choosing to be mental is that you probably don’t need to be medicated to fix this!
Step one: stop making trigger warnings. I won’t go as far as calling for a ban because I really can’t tell other people what to do here. But I will tell them why I think trigger warnings are bad. They are very bad. Bad because we should not avoid ugly things, bad because it shields young people from facing adversity and challenges to their comfort zones.
Step two: realize that college classes are not therapy sessions. Classes are not about you, special snowflakes. You may have noticed that there are more than one of you in every class. You may have also noticed that there is no white noise machine outside the door, nor do you have to go through health insurance or pay a co-pay before sitting at your desk. While you might bring up some personal issues, your college class is not about your personal issues; it’s intended to teach things you have not yet been exposed to so you can pave your road to full-fledged adulthood with a vast array of knowledge on a take it or leave it basis, depending on what path you choose to take. But even if something offends you in class, um, fucking deal with it. The world is a big scary place and lots of things are going to offend you. Anticipating what will hurt on a daily basis is no way to live and, in fact, the classroom is one of the “safest spaces” you will ever know. Which brings me to…
Step three: talk about it. If something pisses you off or makes you uncomfortable, talk about it. You are totally allowed to be offended by things. But let it happen, savoring your emotions as they evolve and change and feel the growing pains of young adulthood, eventually forming informed opinions. Feeling more feelings is great. Shielding yourself from feelings will only make you emotionally constipated and atrophied, and you will never, ever grow into maturity if you don’t face the beautiful ugliness of this stupid, offensive world.