Is Eating Red Meat Really as Bad as Smoking? Phoenix Chefs Tell Us What They Think

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The World Health Organization caused a stir in October when it issued a statement saying eating red meat is linked to a higher cancer risk, even placing red meat in the same carcinogen category as smoking. The story elicited all sorts of reactions — ranging from serious stories about how Americans need to be more careful about what they consume to the Onion writing it off as a joke.

Here's what 13 metro Phoenix chefs have to say on the issue. 

Brady Cohen, Chef of Salty Sow

I don't think we need the WHO to tell us processed meats are bad. We already know any processed food is bad for us, and the proof is abundant right here in Phoenix. If it takes comparing processed meats to smoking to make people understand how bad it really is, then I'm all for it. But I can promise you this, I will always have Spam and hot dogs in my diet.

Aaron Pool, Chef and Owner of Gadzooks 

Obviously, everything in moderation. If I’m taking down a couple of bratwursts a day everyday for years, I probably am going to suffer some consequences. The WHO just needs to leave the daily consumer alone and not drop these headliner generalizations. If I over-consume bananas for lengths of time and neglect other nutrients not found in bananas from my diet, I will suffer consequences from that also, but I may become immune to slipping on banana peels.

Jennifer Russo, Chef and Owner of The Market Restaurant + Bar by Jennifer's

Processed foods are what's wrong in our country. It doesn't surprise me that they can be so deadly. Support local as much as you can and make an effort to know the people behind the products you choose to consume. 

Kelly Fletcher, Chef de Cuisine of El Chorro 

That’s a pretty bold statement. I mean, I’m a smoker, so if eating red meat is taking everybody out with me, then I say good. I’m not going out alone. I’m telling you right now. You’re going to be eating really great your whole life, and I’m like, "Yep, you should have gotten on the smoking bandwagon with me." 

Rebecca Tillman, Executive Chef of the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

We live in a world of wanting everything cheaper, faster, and easier. Unfortunately, our food supply is no exception. It is not a secret that the more we move away from the original ingredients and continue to process them over and over or add ingredients that have very little to do with food, there will be consequences. There are countries that have a hard time feeding their ever-growing populations due to rapid growth and depletion of their farmland. Until the "good stuff" is more cost-effective for all to buy, we will continue to live in a world where fast, cheap, and convenient food will reign supreme.

Santiago Estrada, Executive Chef of Roaring Fork

You know, I am not a scientist that can break this report down. I am a cook who cooks professionally for a living. What is important in my humble opinion is for us to get back to our roots in regard to food. My grandfather lived and passed in El Aguaje, Chihuahua, Mexico. He left us at the age of 99 and farmed and raised livestock his entire life. He not only was the farmer but was the forager, the butcher, the dairy man, and the cook. The only processed meat he would make and consume is the jerky he would salt and dry himself. I am not saying that we all need to move to farm, grow our veggies, and raise our cattle, etc. What I am saying is that we need to support the local community that does that for us and be more aware of what we consume and the balance in which we do. There is something to be said for that

Pauline Martinez, Owner of Perk Eatery

Anything in excess can kill you. I think if you source the best quality product and practice moderation, you'll be just fine. I'm not at all fond of most deli meats, but I will never say no to a fine prosciutto or salami. And bacon? Well, I bleed bacon. 

Brian Archibald, Executive Chef of The Boulders 

One undeniable fact is that what we eat controls our health. If it’s not produced by nature, we shouldn’t be consuming it! There have been too many generations supporting the processed food and convenient food companies that it seems impossible to stop. I would say I feel really good about the attention and return to real vegetables.

Sadhana Raj, Owner of 24 Carrots Natural Café & Urban Juicery

So far, research seems to show a strong correlation and not yet a causation, but I'm sure further research will shed more light on this. Hopefully till then, consumers will show a little more moderation in the consumption of processed foods (both meat and plant-based) and mammalian meats. Personally, I've chosen a plant-based diet for ethical, sustainable, and healthful reasons, and while I know this won't make me immune to disease, it is working well for me. I certainly don't believe that everyone will/can choose to go fully plant-based in the light of this news, but hopefully this will give consumers pause and encourage them to be more selective about the quality and quantities of animal/processed products in their day-to-day cuisine. An informed consumer is an empowered consumer, and I hope as consumers we continue to demand to know if our nutrition is indeed nutritious.

Jacques Qualin, Chef of J&G Steakhouse 

Not surprised about that. That’s why I avoid fast food and processed food as much as I can. You are what you eat at the end of the day.

Silvana Esparza, Chef/Owner of Barrio Urbano 

I wonder what the WHO has to say about the United States still allowing GMOs to be served to the population they are pretending to protect. I am more worried about GMOs and the lack of water than if my bacon is going to kill me. At least I can choose to stop eating bacon. 

Tracy Dempsey, Owner of Tracy Dempsey Originals 

I love my cancer sticks, a.k.a. bacon, salumi, and Spanish chorizo. Have you taken a look at the air here? I may as well be smoking.

Jacob Cutino, Owner of Homeboy's Hot Sauce

Smoke more cigars and eat more bacon. In five more years, they're gonna tell us that quinoa causes colon cancer.

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