Simon Kelner: Well done, non-meat eaters, but your denial is rare

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The Independent Online

Some vegetarians I have known say it was the smell of bacon in a frying pan that made them wish they hadn't taken the vow to give up meat. This made me think that they were not real vegetarians: surely the very idea of bacon would be repellent to them, given that they had made their choice largely on ethical grounds?

I found myself in the same situation on Sunday afternoon. I was having lunch at a friend's house and a tray of sausages was on its way down the table. They looked delicious and I found myself anxiously awaiting their arrival. And then I remembered. I don't eat meat! I am now about halfway through my Lent pledge to give up red meat and poultry and I wouldn't say it's been hard, but those perfectly charred sausages were something of a test.

It dawned on me then that I could not be a red meat refusenik from moral conviction. I wasn't disgusted by the sight of a sausage. Quite the opposite.

This disappointed me a little, as I thought my Lenten observance (I'm not Catholic. I just needed a period of self-sacrifice) could turn into a full-time lifestyle choice. If I didn't find the idea of slaughtering animals for food repugnant, I needed another good reason.

And yesterday it arrived with the news that eating red meat, especially of the processed variety, has a very deleterious effect on one's life expectancy.

On hearing this, my interest was sparked: perhaps this was the motivation I was searching for. Also, it was not one of those surveys you could easily dismiss. We are so used to studies, the findings of which "reveal" that a glass of wine a day is good for you, shortly followed by others saying a glass of wine is bad for you, that it's hard to take seriously the barrage of health advice to which we are subjected.

This survey was different. It was undertaken by researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and involved 100,000 people over a period of 28 years, asking them about their diet and general health. The findings were stark: quite simply, if you eat a steak a day, you increase your risk of early death from cancer or heart disease by around 12 per cent, and if hot dogs, bacon or other processed meats are what floats your boat, the risk goes up to 21 per cent.

Our government health advice that people should eat no more than 70g of red meat a day was, said the authors of the report, "generous". In fact, they recommend half that amount. I used to think that if you omitted steak from your diet, you wouldn't necessarily live longer, it would just feel like it. Now, I'm not so sure. I even found myself looking forward to some smoked tofu the other night.

So maybe I'm about to make the journey to the other side and I haven't even factored in the environmental degradation caused by the carnivore diet and the fact that a fifth of all greenhouse gases are a result of meat production.

But the big question for me is: when those sausages come round again, will I refuse them without even thinking?

It could happen!