Study: Eating Red Meat Is Slow Poison

Robert Benchley
Robert Benchley
A fuss-budget who wound up somehow at a party with Robert Benchley, the writer, deadpan film comedian and infamous lush — and father grandfather of Peter Benchley, author of Jaws — at the Garden of Allah Hotel on the Sunset Strip in the 1930s could not stop herself from scolding Benchley about his drinking. Those martinis he was consuming by bucket load, she told him, were nothing but “slow poison.”

‘That’s okay,” Benchley replied, “I’m in no hurry.”

Having enjoyed a meat-free diet for 35 years, I admit to some fuss-budget tendencies about this issue myself. Avoiding meat is healthier for our bodies and reduces karmic burdens on the spirit. Equally as important — if millions of us stopped eating meat, the reduction in waste and pollution related to raising livestock might just save the planet.

All that said, I have no hope that this new study from Harvard will change any minds:

Eating red meat — any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years.

For instance, adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat — picture a piece of steak no bigger than a deck of cards — to one’s daily diet was associated with a 13 percent greater chance of dying during the course of the study.

Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20 percent higher risk of death during the study…

Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14 percent reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10 percent; and fish, 7 percent.

Still, it’s good to have confirmation of my darkest suspicions about the effects of eating meat, for whatever that is worth.


5 thoughts on “Study: Eating Red Meat Is Slow Poison”

  1. My nephew, when he was 5 or 6, said to my mother (who still smoked then), “Why do you ‘moke?” (he meant smoke). My mother replied that she liked it. The child said, “My mom and dad say if you ‘moke, you’re gonna die fast. My mom and dad don’t ‘moke. They’re gonna die slow. Real slow.”

  2. Just a quick response, here, based on semantics. The study has shown that, for the entire population, deviations in meat consumption from the mean correlated with deviations in probability of death, from the mean, and that this difference was not observed for those who got the same amount of protein from a non-meat source. This is not confirmation of your beliefs about red meat consumption as it is not interventional.

  3. Robert Benchley wasn’t a lush until the last highly depressing years of his life, though he loved a good drink and was supposedly a great companion. But the main reason I’m writing is to explain that his son was Nate Benchley, an author of novels; and that it was Nate Benchley whose son was Peter Benchley.

    Also, it wasn’t martinis Benchley was consuming when he uttered his immortal comment–it was absinthe.

    But Sweet Old Bob (or as he used to write, sometimes people just used the initials) was the kind of person who couldn’t abide bluenoses trying to legislate the behavior of others. So he’s a good choice for your piece. Carry on.

    1. Barry – I’ve been researching the Garden of Allah for a book project for a while now. Over the weekend, I was looking through some materials and happened upon the source for my version of the Benchley quote, which I’d dredged up from memory when I wrote this article. The source was an article in Time Magazine, in June 1959, on the hotel’s history, written on the occasion of its closing. It was torn down later that year and replaced by the eyesore shopping center that is there now.

      Everyone was delighted when Humorist Benchley moved in, accompanied by Columnist John McClain, who trundled Bob from party to party in a wheelbarrow when walking was out of the question. At the Garden Benchley created some of his most memorable epigrams. There, when a friend said that drink was a slow poison, Bob, nose down in a beaker of martinis, answered: “That’s all right. I’m in no hurry.”

      For me, this is good news because it means that my memory is not as faulty as I’d feared. But if there is a more authoritative source for the Benchley quote, please let me know. He is not a central figure in the piece I’m working on, but I don’t want to perpetuate the apocryphal.

      For example, it is received wisdom among GOA history buffs that Joni Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi,” with the line, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” about the destruction of the hotel, which was sited in a park-like setting on three-and-a-half beautifully landscaped acres on the Sunset Strip. But a little research turned up the fact that Mitchell, who moved to Laurel Canyon near the site of the hotel a few years after it was torn down, has said that the line referred to a construction site she saw while on vacation in Hawaii.

  4. Thanks, Barry. I must have elided Benchley’s “slow poison” quote with another quote attributed to him. After he purportedly indulged in a favorite pastime of GOA residents — falling in the pool — he is supposed to have said, “Get me out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

    And thanks for the correction about his relationship to Peter Benchley.

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