Is it time to just assume life causes cancer?

At times it seems like the list of things that’ll give you cancer is infinite. Things once considered perfectly safe are later shown to be the cause of countless deaths. Now it appears we might have to add grilling meat to that list:

Cancer risk from grilled meat: Is it time to give up smoked and fried foods?

A growing body of research suggests that cooking meats over a flame is linked to cancer. Combusting wood, gas, or charcoal emits chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Exposure to these so-called PAHs is known to cause skin, liver, stomach, and several other types of cancer in lab animals. Epidemiological studies link occupational exposure to PAHs to cancer in humans. When PAHs from a flame mingle with nitrogen, say from a slab of meat, they can form nitrated PAHs, or NPAHs. NPAHs are even more carcinogenic than PAHs in laboratory experiments. The reasonable conclusion is that grilling meat may be hazardous to your health.

This idea isn’t new, but is the result of decades of research stretching back to the 1960s. Grilling isn’t the only culprit either. Frying can be pretty bad as well:

Frying bacon, for example,produces significant levels of PAHs, probably due to volatilization of carbon in the bacon itself. An Iranian study published last year found that people who develop certain kinds of gastrointestinal cancers are more likely to have a diet high in fried rather than boiled foods. (The researchers linked level of browning to cancer incidence, thus reducing the likelihood that oil consumption was the culprit.) The FDA and WHO also remain concerned about the presence in food of acrylamides, a known carcinogen that forms from sugar and amino acids when cooked at high temperatures. Long-term studies are currently underway. The worrying implication is that cooking foods at high heat, even without active combustion, may be dangerous.

The thing is, cooking food is something humans have done for tens of thousands of years and modern humans may never have become possible without it. There are a lot of things that cause cancer that I can live without: smoking, asbestos, drinking too much booze, etc., but cooking my food is not one of them.

The link between grilling/frying meat and cancer isn’t quite as solid as the link between smoking and cancer, but there was a time you could’ve said the same about smoking and as time went on and more studies were done that link became more and more evident. It’s not a stretch to assume the same may happen here.

So should we toss out our grills and deep fryers? If you’re one of the sorts of folks who feel that any chance of cancer is too much of a chance to take then, yes, you should. Along with anything else that appears to be linked to causing cancer (and good luck with that effort). Personally, I’m going to go with the strategy of being aware of the risk and sticking to moderation. Surprisingly enough, my diet is already pretty low on grilled/fried foods. I may still get cancer at some point because we have a family history of it, but it could come from any of a hundred different sources the least of which is how my food is prepared. The way things are going currently, I’m more likely to succumb to diabetes before cancer gets a chance to do any damage. Then there’s the fact that no matter what I do, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and make it all a moot point.

I suppose I could go vegan, but I’m pretty sure that’d make me miserable because, dammit, hunks of dead cow steaks and hamburgers are just too fucking tasty to not enjoy from time to time. Part of the problem I’m having with losing weight is because exercise makes me miserable and thus I’m finding it very hard to motivate myself to do it regularly. Giving up meat would be even worse and I’m not about to try it. If I end up shaving a couple of years off the end of my life for my love of a good bit of beef then that’s a price I’ll have to pay.

Which brings me to the title of this post which was a thought I had while reading about this growing consensus. Are we worrying too much about cancer? With all the myriad ways one can shuffle off their mortal coil it seems like we overly hyperventilate every time a new study comes around about a cancer risk. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the issue (on the contrary, being aware of risks helps you to manage them), but even if you could somehow eliminate all exposure to everything that could possibly give you cancer there’s still a chance based solely on your genetics that you will get cancer. Our ability to cure cancer has never been better and a lot of the different types you can get are no longer guaranteed death sentences. The key, I think, is awareness, moderation of risks, and regular health checkups to catch it as early as possible if it does rear its ugly head. We’re all going to die of something eventually and for a lot of us it’s not going to be cancer that does it.

Not entirely sure this makes as much sense as I thought it would, but it’s what I was thinking.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!

I don’t know about you guys, but I am sooooo fully of turkey and stuffing and mashed taters and pecan pie right now. And it was so good.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving was as full of good food and memories as ours was.

Man dies after competing in a roach eating contest to win a snake.

I understand the appeal of pet ownership and I also understand that the more exotic a pet the more it can cost to acquire. Snakes aren’t my thing, but some folks like keeping them and some of them can cost a pretty penny. So it’s not entirely surprising to me that some folks would engage in silly competitions for the chance to win an expensive snake. What I can’t understand is why anyone would consider snakes, or any other expensive pet, worth eating cockroaches over.

But apparently I’m in the minority in that opinion as a contest held at Ben Siegel Reptiles in West Palm Beach required contestants to do just that and several people signed up to participate.

Alas, for contestant Edward Archbold it would be the last meal he’d ever consume:

Edward Archbold, 32, collapsed after winning the repulsive contest at Ben Siegel Reptile Store. Archbold, who was competing for a free python, was stricken outside the Deerfield Beach business, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators reported that Archbold “wasn’t feeling well and began to regurgitate” shortly after the contest’s conclusion. “He had consumed dozens of roaches and worms,” a sheriff’s spokesman noted.

Archbold was pronounced dead after being transported to an area hospital. An autopsy was conducted, and the Broward County medical examiner is awaiting test results to determined Archbold’s cause of death.

On the positive side, he won the contest.

If I had to guess I suspect he may have had an allergic reaction. Eating bugs isn’t particularly dangerous in itself if they’re cleaned and cooked, but live insects can carry a number of potentially problematic diseases (read: e. coli and salmonella, among others) not to mention possibly pesticides.

Knowing all of that, I still wouldn’t eat cockroaches — live or otherwise — unless I was starving and had nothing else at hand. Certainly not for an expensive pet. Very few bugs, uh, bug me, but roaches are at the top of that short list. I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve never had to live in a roach infested home and my encounters with them over the years have been few and very far between, but they give me the heebie jeebies.

What foods are so good that you always end up burning your mouth on them?

Yeah, it kind of feels like that.

The impetus for this question came to me while brushing my teeth this morning and being reminded that I had burned the roof of my mouth on the left side the night before by digging into my wife’s homemade chicken noodle soup before giving it time to cool. I do this every damned time she makes CNS because it’s just so damned tasty that I can’t wait to start in on it.

I always think to myself: Remember, you burned your mouth last time so give it time to cool. And inevitably I still start too soon and end up with a singed gum line someplace in my mouth.  What the hell is wrong with me that I can’t give it a good five or ten minutes to let thermodynamics do its thing and make it safe to eat? It’s not like it’s going to jump off the table and run away or that I have any pressing engagements to worry about.

So I’m curious: Do you guys have any foods that you find so delicious that you end up burning your mouth trying to eat them too soon or am I the only dumbass who does this sort of thing?

Nothing so yummy as a heaping helping of Textured Vegetable Protein Product!

Anyone who has spent any amount of time barely making ends meet, like me and my wife currently are, knows that sometimes when shopping for food you have no choice but to go with the cheap stuff. Which is how I came to be eating a can of Southgate Beef Stew this evening. That’s a brand I hadn’t even heard of previously and I’m not even sure where we got it from. I normally would be reluctant to even try it, but when you end up with weeks like this one where the bank account is literally at $0 available until Friday you start looking at the stuff that’s been in the cupboard for awhile.

So I grabbed the can opener and dumped the contents into a bowl and slapped it into the microwave which is right about the time I took a close look at the label on the can. This is what I saw:

Pic of Southgate Beef Stew label.

Just like what Grandma used to heat up!

Yeah, that just rolls right off the tongue suggesting a savoriness of a unique and special kind. I always get a little nervous when something on the label sounds as generic as possible or includes the word PRODUCT in it. Just what the fuck is TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN PRODUCT anyway?

Turns out it’s pretend meat:

TVP is made from a mixture of proteins extracted primarily from soybeans, but also cotton seeds, wheat and oats. It is extruded into various shapes (chunks, flakes, nuggets, grains, and strips) and sizes, exiting the nozzle while still hot and expanding as it does so. The defatted thermoplastic proteins are heated to 150-200°C, which denatures them into a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids. As the pressurized molten protein mixture exits the extruder, the sudden drop in pressure causes rapid expansion into a puffy solid that is then dried. As much as 50% protein when dry, TVP can be rehydrated at a 2:1 ratio, which drops the percentage of protein to an approximation of ground meat at 16%. High quality TVP can be mixed with ground meat to a ratio of up to 1:3 (rehydrated TVP to meat) without reducing the quality of the final product, sometimes improving it if the meat used is poor. TVP is primarily used as a meat substitute due to its very low cost at less than a third the price of ground beef, and when cooked together will help retain more weight from the meat by absorbing juices normally lost.

It’s commonly used in “Vegan” versions of foods normally made with ground beef. Or, as in this case, in cheap foods to lower the cost. The clinical nature of its name makes it sound somewhat suspect, but it’s actually used in a lot of stuff. You can buy it in bulk and there are lots of sites on the web with recipes for it. All things considered it’s probably the last thing in that stew I should’ve been concerned about.

As for the stew itself, well, it tasted like cheap stew. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything that I’d develop cravings for either. It did the job of Food-as-Fuel that I needed it to do this evening ensuring that I’ll survive long enough to see better days with more flavorful foods.

SEB Safety Tip: Eating raw gastropods for a dare could kill you.

Ah the stupid things young people will do on a dare. Down in Sydney, Australia a young man is fighting for his life after eating a slug infected with rat lungworm:

The 21-year-old contracted rat lungworm disease – a rare form of meningitis – after the stunt.

Rat lungworm disease is caused by Angiostrongylus cantonensis, a parasitic worm that is carried in the pulmonary arteries of rats. Larvae are excreted in the rat’s droppings, which are often eaten by slugs and snails.

The disease can cause fatal swelling of the brain and spinal cord.

I’m sure everyone is very impressed at the size of your balls for nearly killing yourself over a stupid dare. Next up perhaps you’ll attempt to choke to death swallowing a live gold fish?

Remember kids, if you’re going to eat slugs be sure to cook them properly first.

Does anyone actually do this? (#Blogathon)

I went upstairs to find something for lunch and I settled on a Marie Callender’s Creamy Parmesan Chicken Pot Pie we had in the feezer. While I was reading the instructions on the packaging for how to microwave it I noticed the following final step:


Click to embiggen!

If that’s still too hard to read what it says is that I should use a food thermometer to check and make sure that the inside of the pot pie has reached 165 degrees.

Now I know we’ve had a lot of problems with the safety of our food supply over the last year or two. And I’m aware that food producers are always going to cover their asses anytime they feel it’s necessary. But does anyone actually ever do this?

I know i don’t. I don’t think I even own a food thermometer and even if I did I wouldn’t bother using it to check the temperature of my pot pies. It just seems… silly. A blatant CYA move by the pot pie folks. Doubt it would stop them from being sued if one of their pies ended up killing someone. Still I suppose they have to try.

Nobody goes to Denny’s because it’s healthy! (#Blogathon)

The folks over at the Consumerists have an entry about how dangerous Denny’s food is:

Denny’s entrees are loaded with dangerous amounts of salt, according to a class action suit filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The CDC recommends consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day, but some Denny’s entrees contain a whopping 5,500 milligrams.

No Denny’s dish contain less than 500 milligrams of sodium, and 75% of them contain more than the maximum recommended allowance

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has ever eaten at a Denny’s. I love the taste of salt as so I tend to find Denny’s food to be better tasting than it probably really is, but I make point not to eat there too often because it is so salty. It’d probably be best not to ever eat there, but occasionally you find yourself awake at 2AM and hungry and it’s one of the few places still open. It’s a guilty pleasure which will probably lead to my death someday, but that damned sampler is just so tasty!

TV dinners are examples of Fantasy vs. Reality.

Anne and I work on different shifts—I’m mornings and she’s afternoons—and have different days off so there’s only three days out of the week that we see each other in a conscious state (read: when one or the other isn’t asleep in bed already). This means that I have to fend for myself for dinner on the four nights that she’s working and while I’m quite capable of cooking I am a bit out of practice. Anne has tried to make it easy on me by buying TV dinners that can be tossed into the microwave. It was while preparing one the other night that it struck me what a great example of Fantasy versus Reality these are. The meal in question wasn’t a particularly amazing one to begin with, a frozen Banquet brand Chicken Fingers meal, but the picture on the box made it look pretty good:


The Fantasy. Click to embiggen!

Not too shabby. Sure the chicken fingers look like cardboard, but the mac and cheese looks fairly appetizing and that brownie is damn near perfect. Still, I’m an intelligent guy. It’s clear someone went through a lot of trouble to arrange that food in such a way as to make it look as appealing as possible. I’m not so credulous to expect that the reality will be close to what’s being depicted on that box.

That said I still wasn’t prepared to face the reality of the actual product after being through my microwave. Here’s what I sat down to eat:


The Ugly Reality. Click to embiggen! If you DARE!

Holy crap on a cracker! What the fuck is that shit? OK, the chicken fingers are at least recognizable. Somehow they manage to look even more unappetizing than they do on the box, but at least I can tell what they are. The mac and cheese looks like some sort of industrial byproduct that might come to life and claw its way out of the little plastic serving tray, but it too is recognizable. That brownie, though.

My first thought was: Who the hell shit in my Banquet Chicken Fingers dinner when I wasn’t looking? I mean WTF? It was almost enough to make me not eat it, but as it turns out that fucking disgusting brownie was arguably the best tasting thing on that little tray. The chicken fingers themselves tasted like soggy cardboard with a ton too much of salt on them, and that comes from someone who loves his salt. The mac and cheese tasted like vaguely indeterminate “cheeze” flavored rubber. The brownie tasted like a brownie, albeit one made with cement, but a brownie just the same.

Even for someone who’s smart enough to realize the box is an impossible vision dreamed up by an over-paid marketing department that could never be matched in reality, facing that reality was more than a little disappointing. You’d like to believe that the box art is at least a fair approximation of the final product, but it’s almost always far from it. It just amazed me how far from it it really is.

Sugar free Jell-o brand pudding tastes like ass.

Just sayin’ is all.

In all fairness I also must say that Jell-o brand sugar free gelatin tastes pretty good. So one out of two isn’t too shabby. Avoid the sugar free pudding and scarf down the sugar free gelatin.