WHO meat report sparks student reaction

Grace Vance

Considering the meat-centered culture that 96 percent of Americans live in, according to an article from Vegetarian Time’s online site, a recent report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding meat challenges this mindset. Studies from the report classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans” based off strong associations between consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer.” Processed meats were classified as “carcinogenic to humans” with studies showing “convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer.” Since the release of this convincing evidence, many students have shown curiosity toward healthier alternatives.
Of these students is health conscious senior Jiaming Ji. She strives to maintain her balanced lifestyle by eating healthy and exercising regularly.
“I want to live life to the fullest and enjoy every day of my life. I realized that I can only feel good and do good when I eat healthy and [stay] active. At first I was just trying to feel better because I used to be very unhealthy and realized the detrimental effects my past lifestyle was giving me,” Ji said. “I started out by finding healthy recipes with my mom and doing small amounts of exercises each day. After a few weeks I felt a lot better and became fascinated with how a healthy lifestyle can change a person from the inside out.”
The classification of processed and red meats under WHO’s report is not new information to her, though. Ji had a first-hand account of the adverse effects processed food can have on the body. Throughout her eighth grade school year, her diet relied heavily on the school pizza she had for lunch every day — a processed food item that she now finds distaste in.
Senior Maranatha Prenger can relate. She changed her eating regime to a vegan diet in 2012 because of a health issue her mother had, quickly seeing dramatic results.
“The real reason [I went vegan] was because for the past 16 years, if a doctor looked at my mom’s liver enzyme levels, they always assumed that she was an alcoholic because of how serosed her liver was,” Prenger said. “For three months we went vegan because of the documentary ‘Forks Over Knives’ and all of her liver enzyme levels went back to normal.”
[quote cite=”Maranatha Prenger, senior”]I feel like each person has to come to [the realization] by themselves, even if they pick a day to not eat meat. [/quote]With both Prenger’s experience and the WHO report supporting the harmful impacts of processed meat consumption, it begs the question: What dictates the food options in CPS cafeterias?
CPS director of Nutrition Services Laina Fullum said that school menu items are based off of USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) regulations. Those guidelines, along with cost limitations and labor are the biggest dictators in deciding food options.
“There are four of us who decide what actually goes on the menu within USDA regulations of needing so many dark greens and yellow or orange vegetables, dried beans, 50 percent whole grain content of all bread items, low sodium, low sugar, low fat, low saturated fat, and no trans fats,” Fullum said. “We try to emulate foods kids like in a healthy version that fulfills all the requirements in their quantities listed above. Fruits and vegetables are a priority to USDA and hence to us. We go out to bid for all food items served on the menu annually and the district must make menu decisions fit a budget constraint.”
[box title=”Take steps to prevent cancer” box_color=”#2bb64c” title_color=”#000000″ radius=”0″]1) Decrease your consumption of animal foods like meat, dairy and eggs 2) Don’t use tobacco and other drugs 3) Increase your consumption of plant foods like fruits and vegetables 4) Keep your body active 5) Wear sunscreen 6) Get regular medical exams 7) Get at least eight hours of sleep per night according to Mayo Clinic[/box] In light of maintaining a balanced diet, Ji recognizes the harmful effects of meats, but also weighs the risks.
“I personally rarely eat red meat,” Ji said. “I want to say that red meat can’t kill a person or give someone cancer itself — there are many more unhealthy foods that are being consumed daily such as highly processed foods like sausages. Those processed foods are really what causes cancer.”
According to the WHO report, the classification of red meat is based upon “studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence…. There is also evidence of links with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.” Amongst both red and processed meat, colorectal cancer was the predominant effect.
In regard to any future changes in CPS menu options, Fullum believes students have sufficient opportunities at school to adopt a meatless meal if they desire.
“As a dietitian, I was trained to believe there is room for all foods in our diet whether perceived good or bad. There are foods we should eat less of than other foods and some foods we should cover our plates with on a regular basis,” Fullum said. “We tried [Meatless Mondays] before and our community removed it. We will not revisit this again unless there is consensus in our community. We provide variety to students and the ability to go meatless if a student so chooses.”
As a vegan for three years now, Prenger believes that the WHO report has gotten people talking about the subject openly, which she feels to be a positive effect.
I think they are taking steps in the right direction, especially since pork and [other processed meats] are carcinogenic. I feel like each person has to come to [the realization] by themselves, even if they pick a day to not eat meat,” Prenger said. “My aunt said ‘I’ll be vegan for breakfast, vegetarian for lunch and meat-eater for dinner.’ It’s a start.”
art by Neil Cathro
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