Monday, June 28, 2010

Death is Personal

Really personal: from a recent post by Dan Ariely I learned that just 10% of premature deaths were caused by personal decisions back in 1900. Today it's reckoned to be nearer 45%. So these days, if you die young, then it's almost fifty/fifty that it's your own fault. Flip a coin even. Sobering stuff (though you shouldn't have been over the limit in the first place).

I guess we're going to spend a lot more time arguing about no-fault death in the future. I was reminded of this by an excellent broadcast by ABC's FutureTense on the theme of Meatless Monday. It's an idea that originated in the United States (now there's a surprise) and that is getting school kids to only eat vegetarian food for their lunches and dinners every Monday. For the sake of their health and the environment, of course. No ulterior motives there. Though I must say I'm beginning to feel sorry for both teachers and their students: they are the first call of every social engineering fantasy to make the world a better place. It's a wonder they have any time for teaching and learning...

But I'm not against people choosing whether or not to eat meat: some of the time or all of the time for that matter. I'm rather partial myself to the occasional insalata caprese washed down with a cool glass of Pinot Grigio. In moderation, of course: I don't want to be on the wrong side of that coin flip. And if rising costs of meat products mean that I and others eat less then so be it: just so long as I (and others) have the choice. Even if meat prices in Ireland are 21% higher than the EU average.

I find it hard to call the future for vegetarianism: the growth of a 'blame culture' in relation to premature deaths (or maybe any deaths) may well see a growing proportion of middle-aged and older adults opting for less meat diets. On the other hand, rising affluence in the BRIC and other fast growth economies will increase the demand for meat. And will undoubtedly force prices to rise substantially as food security issues worsen.

Better hope we don't end up with the Sunday roast marking the only day of the week we do eat meat.


  1. So it was 10% "personal decisions" & 90% bad luck, now its 45-55. But that could be just because there was a fall in the amount of bad luck i.e. fewer accidents, greater safety etc not because people are making more bad decisions? I would have thought there were much fewer premature deaths now than decades ago.
    I don't know how deaths by personal decisons are defined. If you choose to smoke it doesn't do you any good but it doesn't guarantee you premature death.

  2. Gerard, even though I'm a meat-eater too, I started a facebook page to get allotments going in my local area and was surprised at the enthusiastic response of dozens of young people,especially young women. Some of the comments they left on the page expressed a long-held desire for a space to grow their own vegetables. Admittedly, facebook is bound to interest young people, but I wouldn't have expected such pent-up interest from them for such a traditional pastime. Perhaps the young are pre-empting possible food security crises of the near future?

  3. I'm not sure Kevin: since the big 'killers' are gone (TB etc) it does boil down more to 'lifestyle' killers - heart disease and, to some extent, cancer. So the scope for 'personal decision' in ones ultimate cause of death must surely be on the increase?

    Hugh - sounds good. Sounds like you might be able to start your own kibbutz soon! But I wonder how much of youth's interest is economic (save money) and boredom? Though it doesn't much matter either way I guess.


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