How to Lend Your Support During COVID

Below are some of our favorite ways to help those in need right now. From Relief Funds and Volunteer Programs, to making Small Gestures While You Shop, Dine, and Post on Social Media – we can all contribute to making things better for those who have lost their jobs, loved ones, and all those experiencing hardships during this pandemic.

Though this list mostly focuses on workers in the restaurant industry, we also encourage finding ways to help local operations and industries near and dear to you. For instance, if you’d like to help a farmer you know by connecting them to business-saving resources, take a look at the USDA’s Farmer Funds page and read our post about FarmLink, an organization connecting farmers to food banks. By extending our hand to those in need, we find connection and fulfillment in surprising ways.  

Relief Funds

Restaurants and Restaurant Workers

Relief Funds are being set up for various efforts, such as direct donations to unemployed restaurant workers and independent restaurants. Inevitably, the economic burden from this health crisis most directly affects those workers who are in the most vulnerable financial situations, as they are not considered essential workers and are at the greatest risk of being laid off. Here is a list of funds to consider that particularly resonated with us.

The James Beard Foundation is a foundation that celebrates, nurtures, and honors chefs to make America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.

The Open for Good campaign, set up by JBF, is designed to help independent restaurants survive this crisis and help them thrive long-term by providing financial assistance.  (@beardfoundation)

One Fair Wage Emergency Coronavirus Tipped and Service Worker Support Fund puts cash in the pockets of impacted restaurant workers, car service drivers, delivery workers, and personal service workers. Specifically targeting hourly workers facing unprecedented economic hardships, this fund provides direct, urgent financial assistance to those most directly impacted by food industry closures. (@1fairwage_official)

Another Round Another Rally is a fund set up to offer relief grants of $500 to food hospitality workers, ranging from dishwashers, busboys, chefs, and sommeliers who lost their jobs or had their hours cut because of COVID-19. They are offering a range of ways to tailor your financial support, either by scholarship opportunities, direct financial assistance from the grants, or emergency help. (@anotherroundanotherrally)

Independent Restaurant Coalition is a way to make a difference at the local level. This coalition is designed to provide supporters a way to donate directly to their local restaurants and restaurant workers. They do this by connecting you to your local community and uniting voices to speak directly to lawmakers about decisions regarding industry policy—what they are calling critical investments to bring our economy back. (@indprestaurants)

Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund is created by and for restaurant workers. Their mission is to support hospitality workers who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Before COVID, over 40% of this workforce was living on poverty-level wages, and now, many are unemployed—exacerbating an already challenging financial plight in an industry fraught with high turnover and poor job mobility. This underserved and vulnerable population needs our help now more than ever. (@rwcfusa)

Communities and Families Most Vulnerable

Poverty-stricken communities that relied heavily on aid and resources before COVID-19 are feeling the effects of this pandemic ten-fold. Many families, children, and the elderly who cannot work or rely on schools or organizations for meals and support are in great need of additional assistance. Here are a few organizations that are doing their part to help both locally and globally to assist these communities in need.

Dream Center is a Los Angeles-based outreach program that was suggested to us by our readers. This program offers free assistance to communities struggling with basic needs, including food and clothing donations. Dream Center also uniquely allows you to “Adopt a Block”, which provides the opportunity to directly help 23 underserved communities that have been identified as highest risk. (@ladreamcenter)

Midwest Food Bank is one of hundreds of food banks throughout the nation helping to fight hunger. This faith-based organization’s goal is to alleviate malnutrition and starvation locally by providing food relief to those in need.

This national food bank has over 32,000 volunteers who collect, pack, and distribute food. You can consider donating food, funds, or if local, your time. (@midwestfoodbank)

Feeding America is a larger, more global foundation that bases its work on the statistic that 1 in 9 people in the U.S. struggle with hunger, equating to over 37 million people. To combat this, Feeding America is creating the nation’s largest network to connect people in need of food. Target is a major supporter and partner of the foundation, helping to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of families. (@feedingamerica)

No Kid Hungry focuses on children at risk of losing healthy, balanced meals otherwise provided through their local school system. The organization estimates that over 438 million school meals have been missed because of the pandemic, making it more important than ever to provide families the meals that they need, as well as emergency grants to food banks and community groups. (@feedingamerica)

Meals on Wheels delivers so much more than just food. Founded by a small group of Philadelphia citizens in 1954, the organization supports senior citizens by extending independence and health as they age through food provisions. This has been hailed as one of the most effective social movements in America. Currently, MOW provides meals to over 2.4 million seniors annually in almost every community around the country. (@mealsonwheelsamerica)

Volunteer & Connect

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Volunteering is so much more than just providing help and support. Volunteering is good for the soul. Not only are we helping those less fortunate, but our role as volunteers provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. There is nothing like the feeling of giving back to others.

Here are some great resources for those of us looking to get involved by lending their time or expertise.

National Service is an incredible resource that provides ideas on how to serve your community based on your ability. They provide links to various food banks and food pantries that require volunteers to assist with food sorting and delivery.

They help guide you to your local school systems that may require a helping hand. Furthermore, they bring to light the need for blood donations for those hospitalized. Outside of donating time and blood, they also provide ideas for those who wish to stay home but also help, such as: donating medical supplies and equipment, donating clothes to local charities, and reaching out to loved ones who need added emotional support.

All for Good is another wonderful platform that aggregates how and where to get started with volunteering, both out of the home and at home. They recognize that there is a desire to help others and give back, while also prioritizing safety – they provide a comprehensive list of ways you can help your community without leaving the house.

They have also created a search function that allows you to search locally within your zip code for projects and connections. Furthermore, their platform is also designed to help startup projects and missions by providing a launch point to get their philanthropy off the ground.

Shopping Habits

Hard to imagine that ordering your favorite sushi rolls for delivery or picking up a meal at your local pizzeria could make any sort of real impact, right? Wrong! Small acts of changing the way we spend money and being deliberate in our spending can offer support for local eateries and make a huge difference in the lives of those food-industry workers impacted by COVID-19. Here are a few ways the Dirt to Dinner team has changed the way we shop for food, in hopes of providing monetary support to our favorite restaurants and their employees.  

Consider Take-Out

Do some research into your local eateries! Check out who is open for delivery or curbside pick-up and order from them. 

The best way to directly support your local community is to keep the economy thriving by meaningful spending.

Some restaurants have come up with creative ways to serve their loyal customers and entice spending. For example, see if your local pizza joint is offering an at-home pizza-making kit that you could pick up and enjoy preparing with the whole family. Or see if your favorite weekend spot is providing food plus a wine pairing, for a special at-home dining experience.

Considering take-out goes beyond just the restaurant, as some businesses are partnering with various delivery services to help keep both the storefront and the drivers employed. A delicious win-win if you ask us!

And if you were worried about whether take-out is safe, it is! According to the FDA: “ There is currently no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.” They recommend that if you are concerned, the best thing to do is to wash your hands after removing food from packaging and before meals. The CDC echoes these sentiments.

Purchase Gift Cards

As we look to the future of what life will look like after COVID-19, we can’t wait to get back to our favorite corner bistro to get our hands on that famous burger or specialty dessert that we have been missing for months.

Buying gift cards from a restaurant is a wonderful way to support businesses now and also to give you an outing to look forward to later– talk about a silver lining! It also puts much-needed cash in the hands of struggling food service employees.

You can also consider gifting gift cards. Right now, buying a birthday gift that consists of clothes, or something for the home seems meaningless, as we likely have no outings to attend or dinners to host—why not buy a gift card to a favorite restaurant to celebrate the occasion at a later date?

Tip Generously, When You Can

Tips, especially cash tips, are a sincere and actionable way to say “thank you!”, not just for service, but also for the workers’ decision to put their health and that of their family members at risk so we can enjoy a delicious meal. Consider bumping up your tip to 25% or 30%. We promise you, a little bit goes a long way.

Use your platforms to raise awareness

Restaurants and food services that can open are doing their best to stay that way! This means that their budgets for marketing are nonexistent – but you can help. Take a photo of your favorite eatery and post it to your social pages. Give the restaurant a great review on Yelp or Google. Tweet a photo of your delicious meal and tell your followers to try it for themselves! If you see a restaurant trying to promote a new item or a special deal, help them out by re-posting or sharing their story.

Helping to mobilize the community is a simple, effective way to show your support for restaurants outside of donations. If you are financially struggling, this is a costless way to lend a hand! Something you can do right now is to take a look at the handles we have included above in our Relief Funds section and consider following these organizations. That way, you can show your support by raising awareness and stay up-to-date with initiatives and efforts they are working on.

Actionable Change

While a $5 donation, buying a large pizza, or sending a tweet might seem like nominal actions, they add up and become greater than the sum of their parts. Do what you can with what you have. When made by the collective, these small gestures can change lives.

If you have a foundation or a relief fund that is near and dear to you, please email us at [email protected] and we will include it in our list.

China Assumes Central Role in Global Trade Picture

Trade with China is here to stay. However, this sentence may make you hesitate given all the current geopolitical issues. We have every right to be wary of China: TikTok, Hong Kong, cybersecurity, science & technology theft, Japan/China tensions in East China Sea, China/India border dispute, Huawei. And, not to mention, global GDP is dropping and we are all wearing masks and socially distancing because of a Chinese bat. It is all about a modern-day version of conflict between two political systems: communism and democracy vying for supremacy.

COVID’s effect on global trade

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a massive chill to global trade, with significant declines in the movement of minerals, metals, petroleum, and many other materials and products playing key roles in our modern lifestyle. But even so, China remains a vibrant participant in the global markets – and none more so than in food and agricultural products.

Rising economic power makes China a major supplier to the world for a wide range of goods – and a major customer for agricultural producers.

Despite these unwanted tensions – and the COVID economic downturn – China is a major import and export market for our farmers and our food. China remains a significant source of many products bought by U.S. consumers, including a range of the foods we consume every day. Just as important, China remains a major market for a long list of commodities and food products grown and processed here in the U.S. that support our domestic farm and rural economies.

China has increased their agricultural imports as they come out of COVID. For the first six months of 2020, year-over-year imports of meat, cereals, and soybeans were up 73%, 9%, and 13%, respectively.

In part, this is because of the U.S.-China Phase I Trade Deal, where China committed to $36.6 billion of agricultural imports which would provide income for our farmers and ranchers. While they are not on target, there is still some optimism it will be close to budget.

Why should I care about trade at all? 

Even though you may have read about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the U.S.- China Trade Agreement, these pacts are not always the first thing on one’s mind when going to the grocery store. But trade is the lifeblood for both our financial health and our dietary well-being. Just about 80% of the calories eaten around the world come in part from another country. When trade lags, our economic interests are at risk, too.

Economists tell us that global trade is 60% of global gross domestic product, or “GDP.” When the GDP rises, it’s a good sign of economic prosperity. When it falls, the news is not so good.

Global food trade is estimated to exceed $1.2 trillion each year. Yes, that is trillion, with a T.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a massive downturn in global trade – and projected GDP. The World Bank says the pandemic may create as much as an 8% decline in global GDP – this is of historic proportions. The chart below shows the effect on GDP on the countries hardest hit – those depending on trade.

How important is China in global trade?

China’s role in the international trade picture is enormous, even if it isn’t always recognized by the average person. Since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, China has grown steadily to become the world’s largest trading nation.

In 2018, China’s combined exports and imports reached $5 trillion, eclipsing the U.S. for the #1 position, further proving their global trading power. Indeed, China is America’s 3rd largest trading partner. As of May 2020, the U.S. exported $40 billion worth of goods to China and imported $144 billion.

It is hard to imagine, but it might be communist China that helps to pull the global economy out of the COVID recession.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have slowed the pace of growth in bilateral and multilateral trade, but it hasn’t completely derailed it.

While the International Monetary Fund predicts a 5% global decrease in GDP, China may be harmed far less than some, at just a 1% projected increase compared to the U.S. at -8% and the EU at a drastic -10%. In 2021, forecasts look brighter, with an 8% spike for China, 6% for the EU, and just 5% in the U.S. once COVID is over.

But can China feed itself?

Geopolitical issues aside, the one conversation that keeps the leaders of the Chinese Communist party awake at night is food insecurity. How will they feed a growing population that is moving from the agrarian lifestyle to the cities and suburbs? The U.S. has sold aircrafts, machinery, electronics, optical and medical equipment, and vehicles to China – most of which they can probably make on their own now. But what China does not have is enough arable land.

China has 10% of the arable land, but 20% of the world’s population. Their arable land is 13% of their total land compared to the U.S. at 17%. And, let’s not forget that they have a billion more mouths to feed. This is not to mention that their farming practices are no match for the U.S., as evidenced by their yield per acre and farming efficiency.

Take corn for example: the average Chinese corn producer operates on just a couple of acres or less, with yields of only 90 bushels per acre. Compare that to the average U.S. corn farmer who plants on more than 400 acres and yields about 170 bushels per acre. Some larger, more efficient U.S. commercial corn farms have thousands of acres that hit yields closer to 250 per acre. At this rate, China’s farming efficiency cannot match their population growth.

Agricultural exports to China totaled $25 billion, led by sales of soybeans, cotton, hides and skins, pork, and feed grains. In turn the United States imported almost $5 billion in agricultural products to the United States in 2018, making it the third-largest foreign provider of food and agricultural products. In this case, the trade imbalance is on the side of the United States. Yet we still buy some grocery staples like seafood, juices, garlic, and pet food from China.

So far in 2020, despite the geopolitical issues, China seems prepared to act on that more optimistic economic outlook. But let’s not forget that China has a choice. They do not have to import from the U.S.; they can pivot their soybean, corn, and beef imports over to Brazil and other parts of South America. As you can see, in 2017, China imported more from Brazil than the U.S.

Imports of food and feedstuffs remain a significant factor in global trade, despite the continuing trade bickering between China and the U.S. From a historical perspective, tensions between nations for various forms of superiority and security are nothing new. But tensions between the U.S. and China have serious implications; there’s a great deal at stake for both sides.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

 

My mom always told me it wasn’t nice to make fun of people, even when they did things that I thought were incredibly stupid. You know, the old “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” mantra. She had a point, since she could (and repeatedly would) recite the long list of Olympic-caliber dumb things I’ve done over the years. Glass houses, I suppose.

But forgive me, mom.

I can’t help but think that some things I see around me in the world today are undeniably foolhardy… reckless… senseless… and sometimes, just plain funny. Maybe it’s the effects of being locked away from normal human contact for too long. Maybe it’s the stress created by the undeniably tragic results of a global pandemic, and the lack of control we feel over our own fate. Maybe it’s just humans being – well, human beings.

But consider some of the news reports about how we’re responding in this stressful age, including the ridiculous things some people will do. Some are understandable reactions of people under stress. And forgive me again, mom, I just can’t help but think at least some of these people are idiots. Maybe that’s why so many people are talking about “COVIDIOTS.”

Below are some of our favorite stories that make our official “Covidiot” list. We advise you not to try any of these at home – we don’t want to add any more shockingly silly actions to our expertly refined list of absurdity.

The Runners Up are…

How NOT to make your own mask.

A Kentucky convenience store worker reports serving a customer who obligingly wore a face mask…with a giant hole cut out for her nose and mouth. “It makes it easier to breathe,’ the customer explained. Video of the incident has become a hit, with more than 4 million views. Most of us like to see people try, even if they wind up failing.

 

Please don’t reuse these masks.

Patrons at a popular big-box store were used to the unusual. But when a couple entered wearing absorbent protective under-garments as face masks – well, that did stand out a little bit.

Their approach may or may not have been effective in preventing transmission of COVID, but it sure made for a lot of elbow room in the check-out line. So let’s be generous and say they may not qualify as full-on Covidiots since it’s a step up from purposely putting a hole in your mask. But they are getting awfully close.

 

It’s called “hand sanitizer” for a reason.

The FDA reports incidents of blindness, hospitalization and even death from an increase in drinking hand sanitizers, notably those containing methanol, a poison usually associated with bad liquor. FDA suggests avoiding sanitizers with the dangerous chemical – and by the way, to avoid ingesting it. That’s your tax dollars hard at work there.

 

And we thought apple cider vinegar tasted bad.

In June, the CDC issued a study that found 39% of those surveyed were engaged in “high-risk practices” in order to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. What kind of high-risk practices do you ask? “Washing food products with bleach, applying household cleaning or disinfectant products to bare skin, and intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products,” CDC reported. Four in every 10 people did stuff like this? This does not bode well for humanity.

 

Hi-yo, Silver!

Certain minerals – zinc, for example — can have beneficial health effects. But silver ain’t necessarily one of them. In fact, silver can be dangerous to health, experts agree. Amid all its COVID-related advice, the FDA has issued yet another warning against purchasing products sold as “colloidal silver” or “silver solution” as a protection against COVID – despite some fraudulent claims to the contrary. Silver might kill werewolves and other fictitious beasts and villains, but not the coronavirus. The virus is tougher, meaner, and more dangerous. So, in this case, the bite is worse than the bark!

 

Take me to the (chlorine) river.

International news reports tell of local authorities in India spraying huge crowds with a mixture of chlorine and water. Disinfectants are an important tool in the fight against the coronavirus when used on surfaces. But sprays like this won’t do anything to deal with the virus if you have already been exposed or once it already has entered the body.  It might help prevent, but it won’t cure. But whatever the intention, this practice seems downright demeaning.

 

Leave the eucalyptus for the koalas.

Indonesian government officials have been forced to refute claims that eucalyptus can help prevent the coronavirus after their very own agriculture minister had claimed that wearing a necklace made of eucalyptus for 30 minutes – as he was doing – could prevent transmission of the virus. “We know that the world has not yet found a cure for the disease,” a leading Indonesian scientist observed. “I think it would be wise for us not to spread further claims to a panicked society.” Sounds good to me.

 

Let’s think about this over a drink.

A South African woman claimed she had found an answer for COVID-19 when a thoughtful uncle brought his hospitalized nephew a small bottle of brown sherry, which seemed to cure the poor lad the very next day. Manufacturers of the supposed magic tonic quickly issued a statement denying any link between their product and a miracle cure, despite numerous claims to the contrary on social media. But bottles of the stuff reportedly have been flying off store shelves anyway. This stuff might not cure you, but maybe it’ll make you forget you ever had it!

 

And, without further ado, our winners:  

It must be true. It’s on the internet.

Social media is a powerful new communication tool. But we’ve already seen that it can sometimes go rogue and drive health experts crazy. Consider recent reports across multiple apps that, by holding your breath for 10 seconds every day, you can test yourself for COVID. As one post explained: “If you complete it successfully without coughing, without discomfort, stiffness or tightness, etc., it proves there is no (COVID-19 caused) fibrosis in the lungs, basically indicates no infection.” I’m tempted to add my own post: And if you stop breathing altogether, you’re probably dead.

 

A punch a day keeps the COVID away. An 81-year-old restaurant owner in Massachusetts refused medical treatment after a customer slugged him during a dispute over the patron’s lack of a face mask. Bistro employees followed the attacker out of the restaurant and continued the (not very socially-distant) physical altercation before police arrived. “I don’t think the cops handled the situation very well,” the attacker said later. Hmmm…perhaps you should take a look in the mirror? Hope you’re wearing a mask when you do. Or don’t.

 

Get a free microchip with every vaccine.

A May survey by Yahoo News/YouGov found that as many as 28% of people believed a rumor that the push for a COVID vaccine was actually part of a plot by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to implant monitoring and tracking microchips in billions of people worldwide.

Gates called the survey results “a little bit concerning.” A little bit concerning?

Spot the 28% by looking for the tin foil hats they wear to protect against alien brain scans.

 

I’m majoring in stupidity. Or maybe it’s death, I haven’t decided.

Alabama authorities are asking for help in dealing with “COVID parties” arranged by various groups of young people, especially students at the State University in Tuscaloosa. Attendees put money in a pot – and then intentionally try to infect one another with the virus, using people known to have the virus. Whoever gets COVID first wins the pot.

“It makes no sense,” a Tuscaloosa city councilor observed. What an understatement – considering the Alabama death total from COVID-19 is approaching 1,000, with more than 10,000 reported cases of infection in less than the past month.

 

Dishonorable Mention:

I don’t always socially distance, but when I do…

It probably doesn’t qualify as stupid. But it made me shake my head anyway. Dos Equis beer is doing its part to help all of us maintain social distancing with a new six-foot beer cooler, appropriately and imaginatively named the “Seis-foot cooler” by an undoubtedly overpaid marketing guru somewhere. This triumph of making marketing hay out of national crisis allows “you to theoretically share the cooler with a pal while also simultaneously sitting six feet apart.” Or you could just lay about a dozen empties end-to-end. 

Try not to earn your place at the 2020 Darwin Awards by following official health guidelines and common sense. But if you know of any particularly absurd Covidiot stories lately, let us know and see if your nominee ends up here!

D2D’s Avocado Toast

Looking for something YUM for dinner, a side dish to elevate your entrée, or healthfully satisfy your sweet tooth? Check out our list of tried and true recipes  – you won’t be disappointed 😉

Want some free D2D stuff? Post a photo of your creation on instagram or twitter!

Does Red Meat Cause Cancer?

Summer is a great time to grill steaks and hamburgers…they were definitely featured in our Fourth of July BBQ! We enjoyed them with a variety of tomatoes and lettuces from our garden. But hearing about the perils of consuming red meat on various podcasts, websites, and interviews quickly detracted from its home-cooked deliciousness. What is the truth when it comes to red meat and cancer? And how do we wade through all this information?

Spurring many of the articles we read today on this topic is from a 2015 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which stated that if you ate a lot of meat, your chances of getting cancer increased by 18%. The IARC deemed red meat ‘probably carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence’ and that processed meat is ‘carcinogenic to humans based on sufficient evidence’. Colorectal cancer was the most noted type, but they indicated that processed meat also triggers pancreatic and prostate cancers.

The Global Burden of Disease Project, funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), is cited in the IARC report stating that 34,000 deaths per year are attributable to diets high in processed meat and 50,000 to red meat. Compared with 1,000,000 deaths due to tobacco; 600,000 to alcohol; and 200,000 to air pollution, it’s hard to determine the urgency of the situation.

Meat is Meat is Meat…Right?

First, let’s put this in perspective. The average person whose diet includes red meat, fish, chicken and other protein sources has a 1% chance of getting pancreatic cancer, 4% chance of colorectal cancer, and 9% of prostate cancer. If you eat a diet high in red and processed meats, the IARC reports that your chances of getting these cancers would increase by 18%. While it is still not great, it brings the risk to 1.2%, 5%, and 11%, respectively.

How did the IARC come to this conclusion? It is a bit of a mystery. The America Institute for Cancer Research does not know, either:

It’s not yet clear exactly why these meats increase risk for colorectal cancer. It may be the added nitrites and nitrates, the smoking and/or high temperatures used in some processing, or the heme iron in red meat.”

We first need to distinguish processed meat, such as hot dogs and bacon, from non-processed meat like flank steak or tenderloin. Each one digests differently and thus has different effects on the body.

The culprits are nitrates and nitrites – both are found in red meat and both are compounds with nitrogen and oxygen structures. Nitrates are found in the soil and help plants absorb nitrogen, which is essential for plant growth. Interestingly, vegetables are the biggest source of nitrates in the human diet, accounting for at least 85% of our nitrate consumption. Compare this to processed meats that account for only about 6% of nitrate consumption.

Nitrates vs. Nitrites

Wait…if vegetables are good for us, then how are nitrates harmful in processed meats? The conversion happens when the bacteria in your mouth and enzymes in your body convert nitrates into nitrites, which has one less oxygen atom. Although this seems like a very small difference, it can lead to completely different effects.

That one less oxygen atom turns nitrates into nitric oxide, which is essential for our bodies. But nitrites turn into nitrosamines in our bodies, which can be harmful. There are many kinds of nitrosamines, and some of them can increase cancer risk. For example, nitrosamines are some of the main carcinogens in tobacco. But can these cancerous types be formed in our food, and if so, how?

The reason we eat red meat, besides its taste, is that it’s full of amino acids – in other words, protein. But when there is exposure to high heat through cooking, the amino acids combine with the nitrites and create the perfect condition for nitrosamines to form.

“It’s not so much nitrates/nitrites per se [that are carcinogenic], but the way they are cooked and their local environment that is an important factor”, says Kate Allen, Executive Director of Science and Public Affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund. She says that we need to consider how we are cooking these meats because that could manipulate their carcinogenic properties. “Nitrites in processed meats are in close proximity with proteins, specifically amino acids. When cooked at high temperatures, this allows them to form nitrosamines more easily, the cancer-causing compound.”

Nitrosamines = Bad?

This could be why we don’t see these same carcinogens in vegetables, even though they also contain both nitrates and nitrites. Vegetables are undeniably good for us, and are typically not cooked at the same high temperatures or for as long as meat is, making nitrosamines less likely to form. Plus, vegetables do not contain the same amount of amino acids, making the formation of nitrosamines less likely to occur.

However, nitrosamines are not inherently carcinogenic. There needs to be enough of a chemical reaction to induce a mutation in DNA. Cancer ultimately forms from DNA mutations, including those caused by nitrosamines, which is why red meat is considered potentially harmful by some. But how your DNA reacts to meat also has to do with your epigenetics, which is affected by your sleep, your overall diet, and your exercise.

In addition to nitrosamines, other compounds are up for debate regarding their cancer-causing effects. Substances called heterocyclic amines form when meats are cooked at high temperatures and become blackened or charred. In animal studies, heterocyclic amines are carcinogenic. But what about human studies?

In Pursuit of a Valid Study

To complicate matters further, there is considerable disagreement about the various meta-analyses reporting on the relationship between meat consumption and cancer. Last fall, the Annals of Internal Medicine stated that “the dietary guidelines recommending limited red and processed meat was based on unclear evidence”. Harvard School of Public Health countered with a disagreement on how the Annals of Internal Medicine conducted the meta-analyses. They mentioned that the studies can be cherry-picked to obtain the desired result:

There is a large body of evidence indicating higher consumption of red meat – especially processed red meat is associated with higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and premature death.”

At D2D, we did not conduct our own meta-analysis…we just want to apply some common sense here. So, perhaps between these two studies, we can find a solution that works for most of us.

The variables associated with each human are tremendous. We know that smoking increases your chance of getting cancer and damages almost all the organs in your body. All a study must do is compare smokers with non-smokers to see the effects on one’s body.

But separating out one specific food and studying its effects on the human body is almost impossible. The only way would be to put two separate groups in the exact same living conditions. They would have to follow the exact protocol with exercise, stress levels, living conditions, family life, and diet and then give one red and processed meat and none to the other group. Since cancer takes years to develop, the isolation would have to be for at least 20 years. Honestly, this does not sound very feasible.

The IARC deemed the link between red meat and cancer as having limited evidence so they understood that “other explanations for the observations (chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”

So, what is the answer?

The two leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer. It is well understood that the leading cause of these diseases is diet. We have written extensively about the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management to maintain a healthy life. At this point, we are aware that eating a diet low in saturated fat, trans fats, sodium, and sugar improves our overall health. Furthermore, including 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and nuts every day will make a considerable difference in your life.

fruit vegetable dna

Red meat includes important nutrients. A lean piece of red meat has protein, niacin, vitamin B6, B12, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and vitamin D and must be consumed as part of a balanced diet to reap its benefits.

Like everything we discuss at D2D, eat in moderation. Will bacon on a Sunday morning and a hot dog at a baseball game give you cancer? No. Would you really want to eat bacon and hot dogs every single day? Probably not. Would you eat a steak every day? Not if you are eating a diet with lots of variety.