Of all the crazy accusations clueless commentators lodge against the consumption of animal foods, few are a whacked-out as one that’s making the rounds online: Eat meat, go nuts.
If you have tween-agers at home—or even younger kids—you are well aware of one immutable, indisputable fact: They’re in love with the Internet.
They spend as much time as parents will allow online, texting friends (and frenemies), playing games and watching YouTube videos that may or may not have any connection to the reality-based world as adults understand it.
What that means for this younger generation has yet to be determined, but one side effect that has already surfaced is the proliferation of websites that take a pseudo-fact and turn it into a ridiculous assertion that only has credibility because the online generation can log onto the site and read or watch what appears to be substantive information.
Here’s a great example, one that actually sparked a “let’s look at the facts” discussion in our household.
The story appeared on a website called “NewsFix,” which is the website of KIAH TV, a “virtual” online broadcaster that bills itself as “Houston’s only anchorless news station.”
Anchors aren’t the only thing KIAH is missing.
Their website displays an all-too common mix of celebrity-centric infotainments stories, a slew of paid headlines, which are ads masquerading as PSAs, and lots of pop-ups, clickable icons and other commercial messages.
Not a lot of actual news, including this non-story:
Under a banner headline that read, “Study says eating rare meat can give you road rage,” an article/video package presented this (alleged) danger:
“We know some of you love your steak to still be mooing when it hits the plate but what you probably didn't know that eating it ‘rare’ can cause road rage.
(Not sure why “rare” had to be placed in quotes; I think people know what it means).
“New research says the parasitic bug Toxoplasma gondii infects half of adults, and we catch the bug mostly from handling or eating raw and under-cooked red meat. Once you catch the bug it causes toxoplasmosis in the brain which can influence your behavior.
“So if you eat your meat ‘burnt to a crisp,’ don't go blaming the bug for your bad attitude!”
The actual facts
Where do you start to debunk that hot mess?
Let’s go to a more authoritative source than NewsFix: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, as many as 60 million Americans may be infected with the Toxoplasma parasite. However, very few experience symptoms because the immune system usually prevents the parasite from causing an illness.
CDC explains that there is a danger, though, even for healthy individuals — women, specifically. Anyone who’s a parent has been told by their physician or obstetrician to avoid cleaning out a cat’s litter box during pregnancy. However, pregnant women and individuals who have compromised immune systems should be cautious; for them, a Toxoplasma infection could cause serious health problems.
How did those estimated 60 million people become exposed to the parasite? Yes, eating undercooked meat can transmit the parasite, but only if the meat is contaminated. Improper handling of raw meat can also cause cross-contamination, or in some instances, absorption of the parasite directly through the skin.
But that’s not the only source of the toxoplasma parasite, according to CDC officials. People can and do become infected by drinking water contaminated with T. gondii, usually from streams or other water sources people use without sterilizing while outdoors camping or hunting. Another common source even more basic: accidentally ingesting contaminated soil, by not washing one’s hands after gardening or by eating unwashed fruits or vegetables from a home garden.
In other words, meat is not the only culprit, and for nearly everybody, the threat is minimal — at worst.
And let’s not overlook one other piece of reality here. If you have the flu, or flu-like symptoms, since when is rage your primary emption? On those occasions when I’ve suffered from the body aches, fever and overall congestion, headache and sore throat, about the last thing on Earth I’m doing is driving around looking to pick a fight with some rude or otherwise unskilled motorist on the freeway or at the mall.
I’m home in bed, suffering, wishing I has the energy to get mad about anything.
So — in summary, to ward off toxoplamosis: Wash your hands, and your utensils, cook your meat, and keep your kitchen clean and sanitary.
And stay off NewsFix.com. □
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator