Woody Allen Predicted This Week’s News Story about Red Meat, 46 Years Ago

Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, is the lead author of a new study that is challenging the near-universal recommendation to cut back on red meat for health reasons.

The research was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine and contained a controversial accompanying recommendation from scientists, suggesting that adults continue eating red and processed meats. The evidence on red and processed meats’ link to disease and death is weak and the risk for individuals is small, Johnston and his co-authors concluded.

That recommendation goes against conventional advice from major health organizations like the World Health Organization, as well as the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which recommends limiting red meat, including processed meat, to one serving a week.

Johnston thinks if an individual’s risk is low, they should be able to make their own decisions on what to eat.

I am not really sure what Johnston means by that last thought. People already do make their own decisions on what to eat, whether they are low-risk or high-risk. Sure, there are recommendations, but that’s all they are, recommendations.

As a vegan, reading about research like this study creates a state of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This discomfort is triggered by a situation in which a person’s belief clashes with new evidence perceived by the person. When confronted with facts that contradict beliefs, ideals, and values, people will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort.

There are three basic ways to resolve such a cognitive dissonance:

  • only read articles that are consistent with your belief
  • ignore articles that contradict your belief
  • change your belief and adopt a new one that is consistent with the new evidence

In this case, I used the first two approaches. The news stories featuring this new study mentions some fairly prominent researchers, from places like Harvard and Stanford, who disagree with the Johnston study. These researchers note many studies have found negative health consequences associated with meat consumption. Since that research is consistent with my beliefs, I place more weight on it. And since the new research goes against my beliefs, I ignore it. So at this point, I’m not ready to go back to eating red meat again.

But I do have to give kudos to Woody Allen, who perhaps was aware that new research, like Johnston’s, would come out that went against everything we believed. Here’s a clip from his classic movie Sleeper, released in 1973:

Maybe we’ll never know what diet is best for us; the best we can do is try to make an informed decision, certainly not an easy task when there is conflicting research.

*image from YouTube

13 thoughts on “Woody Allen Predicted This Week’s News Story about Red Meat, 46 Years Ago

  1. I have worked in a university where PhD students find something to ‘research’ to gain their PhD. I am sceptical about ‘reports’ of research even before the media gets its grubby hands on them.
    I’ve never forgiven the health police for the decades they told us full-fat milk and butter were bad for you. I never did buy margarine after I learned how it’s made (I know how butter’s made – you take some cream and shake it about). Fortunately most health scares don’t proliferate as long as that one did.
    My daughter’s reluctantly avoiding red meat and dairy to reduce bloating in her stomach which is currently compressed by numerous low-grade tumours. That’s fair enough, but the vegetarian and vegan alternatives she is eating seem to me highly-processed and artificial.
    I don’t think shuttting your ears is the answer, but to read everything that disagrees with your viewpoint so that you can evaluate it for yourself – not forgetting to research its authenticity independently of the report.

    1. I agree, Cathy, that we need to be more willing to read and think about ideas that are different than our current beliefs. But that’s hard to do, and then it’s even harder to change if that’s what we end up deciding.

    2. Yes I’m still furious that we fed our children unbutter – years ago a chap told us butter was natural and he would eat nothing else – undeterred by having had several major heart attacks! Here at Chez Tidalscribe my husband has been gloating at the news after years of me nagging him about bacon and sausages. We don’t eat much meat and only free range or outdoor reared.

      1. Yes, we’re eating less meat than we used to, but I’d rather not rely on vitamin tablets for my B12. I think variety is the answer rather than giving things up completely (although my husband would happily live on toast and marmalade. I think he did while I was away recently).

    3. Agree entirely Cathy. I laugh every time some new research switches the accepted belief about red wine ….. good for you, bad for you, good for you etc etc etc. It’s all about balance really, whether you are a meat eater, wine drinker or not.

      1. as the title of your blog suggest, there is a lot of cognitive dissonance going on around food, drink, and nutrition. I’m guilty as well!

  2. I think it’s all preference. For me I am transitioning into vegetarian would love to be a vegan. But doing research is very important. I just really don’t like to eat animals. Did you ever get a chance to watch that Sugar film?

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