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Red meat It's food to die for: As a grisly new report says eating beef is not much healthier than drinking arsenic, MAX HASTINGS reaches defiantly for the steak knives
02:13 GMT, 17 March 2012
Researching a book about World War II a few years ago, I found myself interviewing some very elderly Japanese veterans.
I was struck by how youthful they seemed, bounding into my Tokyo hotel like romping teenagers. One jolly former pilot looked capable of getting into a dog-fight in a navy warplane again after lunch.
One seldom sees an obese Japanese, in contrast to the hideous human spectacles on view in Britain and America. They are the most long-lived people on earth, and we do not need scientists to tell us that this is because they exist on a madly healthy diet of rice and raw fish.
Harvard Medical School has studied the dietary habits of 120,000 people. Its researchers conclude that those who tuck into big steaks dramatically increase their prospects of contracting cancer or heart disease
On the plane home I thought: We, too, could live as long as them. All we need to do is adopt their eating habits. Yet I can think of nothing more depressing.
I would rather watch Olympic synchronised swimming than dine in a Japanese restaurant. I am British, for God’s sake.
This means that for most of my life I have embraced a diet of almost raw meat and game. My wife has inherited my mother’s difficulties in persuading me to eat up my greens.
But this week saw the publication of a grisly new medical report, which asserts that eating a lot of red meat is not much healthier for you than drinking arsenic.
Harvard Medical School has studied the dietary habits of 120,000 people over 30 years. Its researchers conclude that those who tuck into big steaks, rare lamb and, worse still, processed meats such as sausages and hamburgers, dramatically increase their prospects of contracting cancer or heart disease.
If you roast your meat, as distinct from boiling or grilling it, they say, you might as well put your affairs in order immediately.
One throws down the newspaper with a weary sigh after reading the latest health scare story.
Hardly a week passes without some dire warning about the consequences of under-exercising or over-exercising; taking daily aspirin or not; eating or abstaining from chocolate; drinking red wine; indulging in sexual excess; getting divorced; retiring too early or late; sleeping too long (yes, really — there was a report last month about that); voting Tory (all right, I am making that one up) or living alone.
All these doctors, of course, deliver their recommendations on one fixed assumption — that society’s purpose should be to extend our lives indefinitely. In this, they achieve ever more success. Longevity has been increasing for the past couple of centuries, since the Industrial Revolution.
In 1900, average global life expectancy at birth was 30, rising to 50 in developed countries. Today, it is 67 for men and 78 for women, and increasing. /03/17/article-2116252-0000104100000CB2-197_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”The experts obsessed with keeping us breathing should pay much more attention, it seems to me, to improving the quality of life of all these amazing survivors” class=”blkBorder” />
The experts obsessed with keeping us breathing should pay much more attention, it seems to me, to improving the quality of life of all these amazing survivors
There is much argument among scientists about how far human life can be prolonged.
A Nobel laureate asserted back in 1970 that the average expectation cannot be pushed beyond 85 because there is no prospect of arresting the ageing process, whatever advances are made in preventing and treating disease.
Today, however, some scientists claim that an average of 100 may become attainable later in the 21st century. They are even stupid enough to suggest this would be good news.
The experts obsessed with keeping us breathing should pay much more attention, it seems to me, to improving the quality of life of all these amazing survivors.
What is the point of continuing to eke out an existence for much longer than our parents unless we enjoy a much more amusing and less boring life than is available to most elderly people today
Medical science is capable of keeping our vital organs ticking over long after we lose the power to do much with them.
Visiting old people’s homes, I never fail to be appalled — indeed, frightened — by the spectacle of the very, very old, sitting mute, gazing blankly into space week after week, and often year after year, in a fashion that I would not wish on my worst enemy, never mind on myself.
My mother, a year before her death at the age of 96, raged at my sister and me for failing to stop doctors reviving her after she had a bad turn.
‘I’ve lived too long,’ she said again and again.
The only people who benefit from extending the lives of people who have lost all mobility — or worse, their minds — are those who run care homes for profit. I oppose legalised euthanasia by third parties because there are too many people — including some greedy family members — who could not be trusted not to abuse such opportunities murderously.
But I refuse to accept the urgings of Harvard Medical School that I should pass up my next rib-eye steak or shoulder of lamb in the hope of living as long as Mummy.
I hope you will not think me a name-dropper if I recite a story from last summer, when I stayed in a Mediterranean villa with my old friend Michael Heseltine, the Tory lord.
In the car on the way to the airport afterwards, my wife Penny said: ‘Michael is 12 years older than you, but I must break it to you that he looks a much more impressive sight beside the pool.’
I have been thinking about that remark ever since — trying to decide how far I am willing to go to close the gap between old Tarzan’s appearance and my own. My conclusion is, I fear: not far. I simply adore tucking into lobster and sole, burgundy and beef stew, pate de foie gras and sauternes, whenever I can get near them.
There is no more delicious scent than that seeping from an oven in which a roast rib is approach- ing perfection.
I am a limited cook, but a wildly enthusiastic one when it comes to producing beef with Yorkshire pudding and lots of blood gravy, followed by queen of puddings.
Internecine family competitiveness is a deplorable thing, but I got a shameful thrill when my son once said: ‘Daddy, I think your gravy’s better than Mummy’s gravy!’
/03/17/article-2116252-120D4BCA000005DC-760_634x390.jpg” width=”634″ height=”390″ alt=”I eat a McDonald's only about once a year, which is probably within the safe limit; I do a lot of walking; play some tennis and swim a bit ” class=”blkBorder” />
I eat a McDonald's only about once a year, which is probably within the safe limit; I do a lot of walking; play some tennis and swim a bit
This was accompanied by vintage champagne, a great white like meursault, port and very old brandy.
In a flourish of bravado, father submitted the bill for this 1933 orgy on an expense claim to Lyons, the catering company he worked for. His boss concluded a blistering rebuke by saying: ‘When you leave this company, Hastings, I sincerely hope you will become one of our customers because God knows you are the sort we need!’
Now, any modern doctor who studied Daddy’s menu would explode in horror at the notion of anyone consuming that much food and drink.
I agree that his consumption, especially of alcohol, was a trifle excessive and shortened his life. But by golly, he enjoyed every mouthful.
If he had been able to rewind the tape, been offered a choice of abandoning all that rich and unhealthy fare in favour of nut cutlets in order to secure an extra decade of life, I am sure he would have stuck with the partridge in brandy. (He died at the age of 72.)
The only proper way for mankind to live is surely with moderation tempered by happy lunges into excess. I eat a McDonald’s only about once a year, which is probably within the safe limit; I do a lot of walking; play some tennis and swim a bit.
I gave up smoking cigars last year, because now that I am 66 I realise that writing books in a haze of smoke is not a great idea unless I want to bid goodbye to my wife and children very soon indeed.
Yes, yes — I know Winston Churchill got away with it, but I am not stupid enough to imagine that the rest of us can get away with such excess.
Nonetheless, I drink an average of at least half a bottle of wine a day, often more, and plan to continue doing so, even though doctors say this puts me at the technical brink of alcoholism.
I had lunch this week with a marvellous man who won a Military Cross as a tank officer in 1944 and has led an amazingly busy life ever since. He is now 88, but could pass for 15 years younger.
He attacked our lunchtime bottle as enthusiastically as I did, and ate the sort of meal that would make Harvard Medical School researchers drop their heads in despair.
My doctor says life-expectancy is overwhelmingly a matter of genes — if you want to know how long you will last just add together your parents’ ages at death, divide by two and expect to go soon afterwards.
We surely diminish ourselves by succumbing to health narcissism, becoming obsessively preoccupied with nursing our bodies.
I love being British, and beef is so inseparable from our country’s culture that it seems almost traitorous to abandon it.
For centuries, at Army mess dinners, that fine old tune The Roast Beef Of Old England has accompanied the entry of the sirloin into the room. The sailors of Nelson’s Navy beat the frog-eating squadrons of Napoleon on a diet of salt beef which had often spent years in the cask and biscuit liberally populated with weevils.
Harvard Medical School researchers can wag their fingers at our Sunday roast as often as they like, but they will receive only a resounding raspberry in the Hastings household.
Every proper life should be steeped in pleasure, and food is one of the most exquisite.
If the consequence of my own excesses is to ship me off while still this side of 90, I cheerfully accept that sacrifice.