One man's meat is another man's confusion: The Star

A man eating a bowl of rice at a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.
A man eating a bowl of rice at a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

For those who do not spend their time meditating in remote desert caves, the prospect of eating just vegetables and tofu is difficult to face.

By Zaid Ibrahim

The Star/Asia News Network

Living in today's world is not easy, not when governments monitor your behaviour and make it their business to tell you what you can or cannot do, 24/7.

They take it upon themselves to be responsible for your security, morals, health and general wellbeing.

In doing so, they act like an Orwellian Big Brother who knows everything that is good for you. For anything that we do, governments will find countless reasons why we should not be doing them.

When we have little choice but to follow what governments tell us to do, it becomes difficult for us to make good and well-informed decisions.

This state of uncertainty is certainly not conducive to healthy living. For example, I have constantly been reminded that carbohydrates are dangerous to our health because they turn into sugar and make us fat.

Carbohydrates have been blamed for contri­buting to many of our prevailing illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and many more.

I therefore had to reduce drastically intake of my favourite foods such as nasi kerabu, nasi dagang, nasi lemak and nasi tumpang. I also decided to heed advice to start eating more protein, which is when I began to consume Hokkaido beef and the best cuts of local beef as well.

I was happily munching away on steaks and the best prime cuts I could get from Japan when the World Health Organisation (WHO) dropped the bombshell that we should say no to red meat, sausages, etc.

The WHO announced that meat, especially the red variety, is linked to cancer of the bowel and colon. What do we do now?

In the wake of the WHO report, media health commentators have said we have to change our lifestyles.

This is extremely exasperating because moving from carbohydrates to protein itself was a huge leap.

What other lifestyle changes are we expected to make?

I am not a disciple of the Dalai Lama and I do not spend my time meditating in remote desert caves, so the prospect of eating just vegetables and tofu is difficult to face.

It's difficult enough to make one lifestyle change but now it seems we are expected to make countless changes every time some experts come up with new statistics.

We have seen this happen numerous times before.

First, it was about the dangers of drinking too much whisky or beer; then they said we had to say no to egg yolk; then it was coffee and then milk (although the experts made a U-turn after that and said milk is good, especially in our old age when we need the extra calcium).

Some food items that lose favour with the experts somehow get back in their good books after a decade or so. It's all very confu­sing.

However, the attention-grabbing headlines that these food announcements generate do not commensurate with their impact on people. For example, 20 per cent of salami lovers in Italy have stopped eating it after the scary WHO announcement.

But, as in previous occasions, experts and food industry observers say old habits will return after a few weeks.

Behaviour patterns don't change drastically, so those who have stopped taking meat will probably go back to their old eating ha­bits in a few months.

Such WHO findings, although initially supported by doctors in general, tend to become more restrained after persistent public questioning.

Doctors are unable to say with certainty that these reports are infallible, or in this case, that there is an irrefutable link between eating red meat and developing cancer.

They usually end up going back to the standard message that eating everything in moderation is acceptable.

If moderation truly is the answer, why do we need to go into lurid details about the carcinogenic effects of eating burnt meat and spoil the fun for all the people enjoying their weekend barbecues?

I urge these experts to manage a lifestyle change of their own: stop confusing people. If you are ultimately going to play it safe and end the discourse by saying "moderation is the key", then don't bother telling us about your scary but useless research findings.

Either you issue a definitive decree that eating meat causes cancer and ban meat products altogether or spare us all this fear mongering.

Stop filling innocent old folks like me with fear of steaks, burgers and sausages. Stop trying to deprive us of the great joy of eating Hokkaido beef, which melts in the mouth.

The lifestyle change I would like to see among food researchers is accepting this simple truth: people know what is and isn't good for them from the general knowledge they already have.

Researchers should focus instead on highlighting what "moderation" means. Be positive. Is it okay to have 200g of red meat per week?

Can they tell us if ostrich meat is better for us, or perhaps even llama meat from South America?

After all, is it okay to kill the multi-billion dollar global meat industry and cause the loss of tens of thousands of jobs?

Give us new ways of cooking meat so it is "safer" for us to eat and we will try them.

At the end of it all, give us some breathing space to enjoy this life, even if it's not the one that governments have in mind for us.

Former de facto law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is now a legal consultant.