I sidestepped one potential suicide attempt when I quit smoking more than 30 years ago. And my alcohol intake is so low I could become teetotal with only a little more effort.
But both those lifestyle decisions are based on incontrovertible evidence that smoking and excess alcohol cause disease and reduce life expectancy, emphasised for me by the number of smokers and drinkers I’ve known who have died early and in pain. There’s simply no argument about it.
Money also matters. Smoking and drinking are expensive. Not doing either means more cash in hand.
But eating red meat is another matter. We can’t live without eating – in spite of attempts by some fashion models to prove the contrary – and as food writer Alex Renton pointed out in a Sunday newspaper article: “We’re hard-wired to eat meat, all we can get of it. Research shows that if you give a diet of unlimited meat to omnivorous animals, whether a fly, a mouse, or a chimpanzee, they will go on gorging until they are fat and ill. And that is precisely what has happened to humans.”
Harsh, but as a walk down any high street or round a supermarket – or, indeed, a study of any random selection of group photographs in a farming magazine – will indicate, fair. Too many of us eat too much and too much of what we eat is meat, especially processed as burgers, pies, pasties, kebabs, curries and bacon. The fact that as average incomes rise in any developing country, more meat is eaten. The problem is, Mr Renton wrote, that “the more meat a population eats, the more bowel cancer there is”. But as far as farmers and the meat industry are concerned, evidence about the link between meat eating and bowel cancer is not as conclusive as all evidence about smoking and alcohol on health. And, as a “devoted meat eater” himself, Mr Renton was happy to find that a European survey of 450,000 people over 10 years concluded that there was only a “moderate positive association” between processed meat consumption and mortality.
But he still believes that reducing our consumption by about a third – the present UK average is 89 kilos of meat a year, including chicken – would make us healthier.
For many social and economic reasons that is unlikely to happen, to the relief of Britain’s cattle, sheep, pig and poultry farmers who have enough problems dealing with processors, butchers and supermarkets, the vagaries of livestock production and fluctuating prices, as it is.
Given the effort so many of us put in to destroying our health and reducing our life expectancy, it was humbling and heartwarming to see that teenager Samantha Kinghorn has been selected as a para-athlete for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Samantha, most will remember, was paralysed from the waist down as a 14-year-old by a fall of snow from a farm roof near Gordon almost three years ago when helping her father clear a path. Indomitably and still paralysed, she has gone from wheelchair athlete novice to being ranked second in Europe in her class over 1,500m and will compete for Scotland at Glasgow’s games next summer.
She’s an inspiration.