by George Henderson
Research Assistant at AUT Human Potential Centre
When you promote a diet that allows people to eat red meat if they want to, while others
recommend that red meat be strictly limited, and people eat what they want anyway, it puts you in
the position of having to answer the familiar question, is meat a cause of disease?
The idea that eating meat causes diseases like cancer was initially driven into the public consciousness by the American temperance crusader, quack doctor and breakfast cereal salesman John Harvey Kellogg, who also popularised the idea of colonic cleanses as a cure for dietary ills. Thus the major ideas about meat and disease that we have to deal with today had a wide currency before any sort of scientific evidence existed that could be used to support them. They grew out of a vegetarian bias, the association between meat eating and alcohol consumption in the Temperance era, and the characteristic American desire to succeed by selling novel products and services.
The phrase “nutritional terrorism”, used by food historian Harvey A. Levenstein, describes a process that has been going on, with regard to meat in the diet, for over a hundred years; a war against eating habits in which the weapons are statements like “eating X causes cancer” and “eating Y prevents cancer” (so, by implication, not eating Y causes cancer too). Implicit in the phrase “nutritional terrorism” is the idea that these statements are themselves harmful, and can be used to manipulate and exploit people.