On Monday, the internet went nuts after the World Health Organisation announced bacon could increase the risk of cancer.
For a long time, researchers have reported a connection between processed meat and colorectal cancer, also called bowel cancer, and red meat and these same cancers. The WHO’s latest study categorizes America’s favourite breakfast sides among tobacco, asbestos, and plutonium on a list of known human carcinogens.
While the Twittersphere exploded in messages of despair, there’s one famous counter-example that should restore give cheer to bacon-lovers around the world.
The world’s oldest person, Susannah Mushatt Jones, has loved bacon for more than a century. The meat is the first thing to disappear from her plate every morning. At 116 years old, she swears by bacon as one of her secrets to longevity.
Earlier this year, I had breakfast with Jones in her home — a sunbathed one-bedroom in the Vandalia Houses, a public-housing facility for seniors in east Brooklyn, New York.
When I arrived five minutes late, she’d already dispensed with the bacon and was tackling the grits. Jones is blind, and partially deaf, but with steady, fervent hands, she searched her plate for morsels and shoveled them into her mouth.
The routine is the same each day for Jones. First the bacon, then grits. Afterwards, she unwraps five sticks of Doublemint gum and tosses the papers on the floor beside her slippers. She likes to chew them all at once because, as her caretaker explained, “they’re making them so flimsy now.”
Every morning with a glass of water and cranberry juice, Jones takes a multivitamin and a blood-pressure medication. She sees the doctor just four times a year for “maintenance,” according to her niece Lois Judge. Along with chewing gum and her breakfasts, Judge said Jones’ diet largely consists of fruits. She never complains of pain.
She sleeps most of the day, with the radio or a daytime-TV game show playing in the background, though she probably can’t hear it. These days, Jones mainly responds to the voices of her family members and friends.
Still, Jones doesn’t look a day over 100. The Lowndes County, Alabama, native has smooth, soft skin, like peach fuzz. Patches of light brown hair cover her head, while whiskers pepper her chin. Her frame is small — maybe 5 foot, 90 pounds — a far cry from the sturdy woman she was in her youth.
Judge attributes her aunt’s long life to a few factors: Jones never drank, partied, or did drugs. Her greatest indulgence was lace lingerie from Bloomingdale’s, with which she reportedly startled her doctors when she sported it during an EKG appointment years ago.
Most importantly, they believe, she surrounded herself with family who provide love and support and continue to visit every Sunday. And certainly, a “working man’s appetite” couldn’t hurt.
My visit with Jones was brief. And quiet. She mostly laid slumped over in an armchair as Judge recounted her aunt’s journey. Several times we attempted to rile her from her slumber without success, and only when Judge mentioned Jones’ favourite breakfast meat did she rouse.
“Are you hungry?” Judge said in a shouting voice, cradling her aunt in an outstretched arm.
“Am I hungry?” Jones repeated. “What do you got to eat?”
“Bacon,” Judge said.
Without missing a beat, Jones jerked her head upright and asked, “Where is it?”
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