The latest poison has been revealed—and you’re made of it

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just announced that processed meat—and possibly all red meat—has been confirmed to be carcinogenic. I was at my computer when I first heard of the news in the form of a Facebook post and I was skeptical. At first, I briefly considered switching to tofu, before realizing I had already cut out soy products the week before due to hazards from pesticide contamination, just as I had similarly done fish (poisonous mercury accumulation), meat (arterial deterioration), and poultry (unethical farming procedures). 

For some time, I had been holding out on the hope that one day, soon, meat could be grown artificially without harm to living beings, but then I found out about the dangers of stem cell research, the potential for serious breaches of bioethics in genetic engineering, and the mass extinction of domesticated animals suddenly rendered obsolete. It is at this point that I set an alert on my computer to notify me of new findings. I don’t want to inadvertently consume something that was harmless a minute ago—when everyone was eating it—but has now suddenly turned to poison with the stroke of a researcher’s pen.

In fact, eating may be a tricky subject overall. The sweeping obesity epidemic speaks to that. Not that undereating is a solution, either—a death by malnourishment is protracted and torturous. Even thirst is an almost insurmountable obstacle, with dehydration and overhydration having almost identical symptoms, leaving aside the trials of maintaining a precarious balance of electrolytes. Soft drinks lead to diabetes and obesity; alcohol leads to liver failure and brain cell death.

In desperation, I recall that wonder of cheap, accessible health food, and reach for the carton of juice before recoiling in horror at the latest scientific dispatch—fruit juices are empty and sugar-laden, and in physiological effect, are entirely no different from soda. So I reach for the next jug, a white cardboard prism decorated with a suspiciously cheerful cow. But milk is more fattening than it is healthful; it actually depletes the bones’ calcium; it predisposes the body to type 1 diabetes, and it causes unpredictable hormonal effects in humans, left over from doping cows to increase milk production.

But nothing can detract from pure, clear, wholesome water, the stuff of life and free on tap to all! Nothing, that is, except bacterial contamination, heavy metal poisoning, overfluoridation, sewage backflow, and decomposing bodies in the water supply. Perhaps bottled water? That, at least, is pristine and purified, and originates from some gleaming arctic glacier? Absolutely, if it isn’t from the vast majority of bottlers that do little more than package and hugely markup normal, unfiltered tap water.

In terrified indecision, I sit stock still, but even that isn’t safe. Of course, an inactive lifestyle is a leading cause of obesity and heart disease—not that overexertion isn’t risky, leading to heatstroke and heart attack. At some point I’d better get some sleep, lest I have an aneurism or semi-catatonically walk into traffic. Maybe just a good nap, assuming that I don’t oversleep and suffer a cerebral hemorrhage, have an overexciting dream leading to heart failure, fall out of bed and break my neck, or spontaneously develop sleep apnea and suddenly asphyxiate—as has actually been known to occur. Frozen, I take a deep breath—as it happens, rampant air pollution means that every breath taken in a developed urban area is equivalent to inhaling diluted cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and, who knows, probably live nuclear waste.

After a while, it sounds an awful lot like that famous quotation: “Living may be hazardous to your health,” WHO said that? I don’t know.

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