OK meat lovers, hold on to your hats. There was a lot of nonsense spouted last week after the World Health Organisation's report that meat causes cancer. The WHO never said eating bacon was like smoking fags. What it did say is that meat is a dense source of nutrition but eating too much of it raises your risk of colourectal cancer. And Australians eat way too much meat. The WHO report, published in The Lancet Oncology, reported that the global mean intake of meat is about 50 grams to 100 grams of red meat per person per day. The average Australian eats a whopping 185 grams of red meat a day. Australia has, unfortunately, the eighth-highest rate of colourectal cancer in the world.
The report pointed the finger at high-temperature cooking: pan-frying, grilling, or barbecuing that produces known or suspected carcinogens such as heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The report also stated that "meat processing, such as curing and smoking, can result in formation of carcinogenic chemicals" which include nitrosamines and nitrosamides (NOCs). These occur when the preservatives that are added to processed meat, to make it safe from deadly bugs like the botulism bacteria, react with other compounds in the meat to create carcinogens. It is important to note that although nitrites and nitrates occur naturally in plants, including leafy greens, these plants also contain compounds that inhibit the transformation of the nitrates and nitrites into the cancer-causing NOCs. Heme iron, found in red meat, can help transform nitrites and nitrates into NOCs in the gut. For this reason, some people are choosing to avoid sausages, hams, bacon, pancetta and other smallgoods preserved with these chemicals, and reducing their intake of red meat.
What the WHO report did not take into account was the consumption of vegetable fibre and the time red meat spends in the gut. Good gut health is promoted by eating plenty of fibre-rich vegetables of different types and colours, and pulses and beans as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. American food writer Michael Pollan put it best when he wrote, "eat plants, mostly leaves. Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plants foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs, which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cow, sheep, pig). Treat meat as a flavouring or special occasion food."
Nitrite and nitrate-free makers and butchers
Meat discolours to an unappealing but perfectly safe grey-brown when exposed to air. The preservatives nitrate and nitrite stop this from occurring. The rosy pink in bacon and ham comes from these preservatives. If you want nitrite and nitrate-free foods then you may have to put up with some aesthetic issues. It is important to note that these preservatives have rendered food safe from harmful bacteria for a long time. Vegetable-based preservatives such as celery extract still contain naturally occurring nitrites. Following is a list of selected producers and retailers selling nitrate and nitrite-free sausages and smallgoods.
Jonai Farms and Meatsmiths
Free-range ethical pork products preserved only with salt and spices. The range includes ham, coppa, lonza, pancetta, ham, fresh sausages and pate de tete.
Works on a community supported agriculture (subscription) model delivery in central Victoria and Melbourne.
Sold from farmers' markets around Melbourne and their farm-gate butchery in Barham near Echuca, Bundarra bacon, albeit brown, is preserved with salt and spices and is delicious. Also making and selling hams, capocollo, fresh sausages and French charcuterie.
Chef Annie Smithers and butcher Angus Beaumont produce fresh sausages, terrines, rillettes, potted pork and pate in Trentham and sell from Du Fermier, Trentham, Kyneton and Daylesford farmers' markets and the French Shop at the Queen Victoria Market.
Farmer turned butcher Kenneth Neff uses ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in his fresh sausages to keep them nice and pink and makes nitrate and nitrite-free hams and bacons to order in his Tyabb butchery and farm gate.
Howes Creek Farm
Matt Merchant is a British-born butcher whose uncle sold snags to Harrods. Based near in the High Country, Howes sells a small range of fresh sausages, pates and terrines. Available at Mansfield Farmer's Market
Amber Creek Farm
Makes pork sausages with just salt and herbs. Available at Foster and Traralgon farmers' markets and Fish Creek General Store.
Colin and Sally's Organic Lamb and Beef
Based in South Gippsland, this husband and wife grow organic beef and lamb, making sausages from both without preservatives or filler and sell direct to customers, delivering to set drop-off points.
Salt Kitchen Charcuterie
Mick Nunn makes preservative-free sausages and Big Pig bacon and streaky bacon cured only with salt, sugar, rosemary and maple syrup; available in McCoppins, Clifton Hill, Wilsons Fruit and Veg, Ballarat, and Fig and Vine, East Geelong.
0458 310 379
Producers of old-fashioned English style streaky bacon made salt, sugar and herbs plus a very lovely preservative-free pork pie. Available at farmers' markets.
Hagens Organic Butchers
Organic butchers making preservative-free sausages in the Prahran and Queen Vic Markets with stores in Richmond and Bentleigh.
Gary's Quality Meats
Based in the Prahran Market, butcher Gary McBean makes award-winning sausages without any preservatives apart form salt, and makes salt-cured bacon to order.
North Balwyn-based organic butchery making beef and lamb sausages with only Himalayan salt.
The Beef Joint
Set in the main street of Healesville, butcher Ben Duff cures Warby Ranges free-range pork with only salt, sugar and spices to make hams and bacon.
03 5962 4905