Processed meats like bacon and sausage can cause cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency said. There are alternatives. (EPA/JIM LO SCALZO)

What do hot dogs and bacon have in common with cigarettes, arsenic and asbestos? Well, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization they have one main thing in common – they are all carcinogenic and can kill you.

No doubt articles worldwide will be popping up in defense of piggy meals and people will protest that the WHO is an alien conspiracy trying to take bacon from the hands of babes. But in reality, the big bacon shakedown may have a greater effect on declining bacon sales than Babe or Wilbur combined.

As a mom of course I want my son, Noah, to be healthy. For me this translates into eating healthy food, staying active, getting rest, and lots of cuddles for his emotional well being. Where food is concerned, I am not perfect and we have devoured our share of greasy fries and Double Stuf Oreos. But these are treats reserved for special occasions. Noah and I follow a plant-based diet (no meat, fish, dairy or eggs) even when indulging in guilty pleasures.

So needless to say the WHO announcement didn’t throw my world into chaos. It was affirmation for what I have known for years – processed meat is extremely unhealthy. But for many parents this will be a wake up call to dietary changes towards a healthier lifestyle. In which case, here are four things I’ve learned that might help before your next visit to the grocery store.

  1. Don’t panic. There is tofu.

The grocery stores are stocked with tasty and healthy meat alternatives. And most are less expensive than meat. When I first became vegetarian at age 7, tofu hot dogs were not an option. I was the odd girl at parties. I brought sandwiches and quietly nibbled in the corner. But those days are over. Now there are many  brands to choose from to please even the pickiest of little eaters. Hot dog substitutes are easily found at most mainstream stores and even restaurants. We love Tofurky hot dogs made with organic soy and pea protein, they taste great grilled and I have seen many carnivore kids eating them happily. Yves hot dogs were among the first veggie dogs we tried. Want more selection replacements? Check out these plant-based substitutes. Not into soy? No problem. How about Field Roast  sausages? These tasty alternatives are simply made from grain and vegetables such as apples, potatoes, mushrooms and carrots. The protein in these hot dogs comes from vital wheat gluten. And if you are looking for soy and gluten free protein options for your kids that aren’t on the WHO’s cancer causing list, they do exist. Other healthy and kid approved protein options include beans, chickpeas, lentils, all kinds of nuts and seeds, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, Seitan, and even veggies like broccoli, peas, sweet corn, squash, and asparagus!=.

  1. Know the Facts

We can teach our kids what it means to be healthy, but first we need to know the facts ourselves. I do my own research about food from books, documentaries and trusted online sources. So although the WHO just announced their verdict on processed meat, there have actually been countless studies on how unhealthy meat is for humans for years. The medical community knows this too and has shared their findings in journal articles. In 2009 the American Dietetic Association released their study that says meat is not good for you and vegetarian diets can even cure and prevent certain diseases. Of course not everybody reads medical journals, but we watch movies. The documentary Forks Over Knives, released in 2011, is backed by scientific research. It examines the work of two doctors that claim many diseases that face humanity today can be prevented or reversed when we stop eating animal-based and processed foods. Some other great documentaries on this topic include Vegucated, Cowspiracy, and Food Matters.

  1. Join Meatless Mondays

Oh Meatless Mondays, where were you when I was a child and people stared in disbelief when I announced I didn’t eat animals? But now it’s cool to be meat free and you can become part of the global movement called Meatless Mondays whose mission is for everyone to go meatless one day a week for their health and the planet.  They encourage each nation to bring distinctive cultures to the table.  Entire schools, hospitals, companies and restaurants worldwide have adopted this concept. Oprah endorsed Meatless Mondays in 2011 and brought the concept to Harpo Studios for her entire staff.  Meatless Mondays is a once a week commitment to eating healthier. Instead of sending kids to school with processed ham or salami, try hummus on whole wheat pita with fresh veggies; wheat or rice pasta with sauce, baked bean or lentil wraps; a hot bean and veggie stew; or a bagel with plant-based cream cheese. As parents, we have the power to encourage our kids to eat healthy foods. And when you are ready to help bring Meatless Mondays to your kid’s entire school, there is a downloadable K – 12 toolkit. Hundreds of public and private schools have already joined the movement.

  1. It’s the compassionate thing to do anyway

If kids knew the truth about factory farming and where their bacon and hot dogs came from, how the animals suffered terribly, there is a good chance these kids would choose not to eat meat on their own. Just ask 3-year-old Luiz from Brazil whose viral video received millions of views and sums up kindness for animals. “These animals, you gotta take care of them. Not eat them,” he says. What’s the worst thing that can happen when we allow a child to love all animals equally? When they love a cat as much as a cow, and a dog as much as a pig? Perhaps they won’t want to eat Babe or Wilbur anymore. And that’s a good thing for many reasons, right? Because, according to the WHO, eating pigs may one day kill our kids, too.

Miriam Porter is a freelance writer. You can find her at miriamporter.ca, or on Twitter @MiriamRiverP.

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