Critic’s Notebook

Which Am I More Willing to Give Up: One Year of My Life or a Well-Marbled Rib Eye?

What last week’s red meat buzzkill from Harvard means for meat lovers.

By Kathryn Robinson March 19, 2012

Proceed with caution? Steak at John Howie.

Last week came the bombshell that consumption of red meat is associated with a higher risk of early death.

It was a 20-year study, of more than 120,000 people, done by the reputable Harvard School of Public Health. Very persuasive. Dispiriting for avid carnivores. News to no one.

I got the word—I’m not kidding—over a heaping plate of prime rib eye at Manhattan Drugs. (Way to harsh a girl’s mellow, tablemates.) Increased risk of fatal heart disease and terminal cancer, I learned between bites. Nicely marbled bites.

“But don’t worry,” they consoled. “Steak isn’t as bad as hot dogs.” Processed meats, full of sodium and nitrites, indeed weighed in higher on the heartstopper index. Maybe soon wiener joints will be compelled to post those cheery fine-print snippets on their menus, about how the food you’re now consuming could be the fast-track to the morgue. Enjoy!

None of this is a surprise, of course; we beef-lovers have long known that our habit isn’t so healthy. The wisest among us have tempered our consumption of red meat while tweaking our other habits: upping good carbs (vegetables, legumes, soy products) and reducing bad ones (refined flours, high-fructose corn syrup); upping good fats (omega-3s) and reducing bad ones (trans and saturated, to name two).

Indeed, one criticism of the study was that it may have been measuring the results of correlating factors as much as the results of red-meat intake. The study pointed out that a higher red-meat intake was associated with lower intakes of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.

I eat whole grains, vegetables, and fruits! Plenty of ‘em!

As ever, it comes down to moderation—and a sense of proportion. According to a Cambridge biostatistician, the Harvard study’s most quoted claim—that red meat-eaters have a 13 percent extra risk of dying—actually amounts to one year of life. The difference between living to 79 and living to 80.

Now I don’t mean to be glib about a very real health risk, I don’t. But after much thought I’ve concluded that the occasional L’il Woody’s Pendleton burger, Cuoco bistecca, and Canlis steak tartare accords me more life-giving joy than my 80th birthday will likely bring.

I’m just sayin’.

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