Why Won’t Bacon Go Away?

This pork product's cultural currency has long passed its expiration date

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I love bacon. I’ve rhapsodized about it on TV, had it sent to me in the mail, even written a poem about it. I eat it almost every day. But bacon as a trend is a monster that won’t die, and I can’t understand why.

The proximate cause of my disbelief, an incredulity so intense that I could feel my scalp tingle, was the announcement of United States of Bacon, a new TV series premiering Dec. 30 on the lesser known cable channel that is Destination America (an introductory episode ran in July on the Discovery channel). As far as I can tell from the teaser, the show is so grossly formulaic that it almost seems like a parody: a portly, spiky-haired host overemotes into the camera about “the orgasmic sense of bacon,” sings silly bacon songs, and otherwise checks off every trope of oaf-pandering, lowest-common-denominator programming you can think of. I am embarrassed to say that I am looking forward to it.

(MORE: Ozersky: Are These End Times for Meat?)

I mention how dumb the show looks not because I have anything against it personally — hell, I’ve been on some pretty terrible food shows in my time, and, as Don Corleone says, “It makes no difference to me how a man makes his living.” But for years now, bacon has been a free pass, a watchword, the last refuge of a bore. I made one of my most conspicuously wrong pronouncements in 2007 when, on New York’s Grub Street blog, I confidently announced that bacon had “jumped the shark.” (This was so long ago that the very term I used to describe bacon’s tiredness has itself passed into obscurity.) It seemed to me that bacon’s countercultural moxie — the symbolic middle finger it gave to haute cuisine and healthy eating — was played out, as hollow a gesture as a “Question Authority” bumper sticker.

And yet bacon just kept coming — bacon wallets, bacon jewelry, bacon bandages, a relaunched bacon-of-the-month club. Any restaurant could spike sales by adding bacon to a dish; any fast-food chain could count on a Pavlovian response to the word, as when Burger King recently trotted out the pork product as a sundae topping. There are now multiple stores on the Web that specialize in bacon paraphernalia. “Bacon mania” even has its own, not unscholarly Wikipedia entry, for the love of Mike!

I’m not going to tell you that I know the secret of bacon’s talismanic power. Clearly, I don’t since I keep underestimating it. But I have a few suspicions. One has to do with taste, one has to do with coolness, and one has to do with manhood.

(MORE: Ozersky: A Meat Lover Says Yes to Meatless Mondays)

Taste
Bacon does have a distinct, wonderful taste, as everyone knows. But you can’t really taste bacon when it’s inside of a double cheeseburger or wrapped lattice-like around a pound of sausage. For my money, you can’t even really taste it when it’s smoked with applewood, which is the bacon equivalent of near beer. But what you can taste is fat. Americans think they don’t like eating fat straight up; they cut the edges off pork chops, use “buttery spreads” instead of butter and go to restaurants that give you bad olive oil with your bread. Bacon is about the only form of straight fat eating that exists within the American mainstream. And fat is the active ingredient in everything good in any meat you can name. The lean muscle is just along for the ride. In bacon, as in everything else, the fat is the meat, and the meat is the vegetable.

Coolness
Bacon isn’t cool, any more than, say, Nicki Minaj is cool. But it’s cooler than hamburgers, chicken and pizza, in the exact same way that Minaj is cooler than Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. Now this may be a low bar, but a low bar is exactly what you need if you want tens of millions of people to jump over it. While I doubt that anybody really considers bacon idiosyncratic or transgressive in any way, it has the magic quality of being just different enough, just odd enough, to qualify its proponents as not absolutely mainstream. In this, it is like almost every product that has enjoyed mainstream success.

(MORE: So About That ‘Unavoidable Bacon Shortage’? You Can Stop Freaking Out Now)

Manhood
There was much blowback from the Dodge Charger commercial some years back that proclaimed, in almost homicidal tones, that men had been put upon too long and deserved to have, at the very least, a hypermasculine muscle car as a consolation prize: “man’s last stand.” Well, times haven’t gotten any easier for men, or so it seems to that portion of the male population that stoops to “white male victimhood.” (I learned this phrase on Jezebel, the lady blog I read every day to find out what the other half is thinking.) The heyday of white guys may be far from over, as the election supposedly indicates, but that only makes white guys more incensed, in states both red and blue. Among Americans who don’t want to come off like mullet-wearing goons, bacon is an acceptable substitute for less innocuous totems of proud manhood. Yes, it’s weak, and yes, a lot of women are into bacon too, but I smell something besides cured meat and smoke coming from bacon; I smell the sweet stench of identity politics.

I may be wrong about all this — I have been before. Is bacon a trend, a state of mind, a sign of the times or some weird kind of cultural lingua franca? I can’t say. But for better or for worse, I think we really have come to live in the “United States of Bacon.”

91 comments
delyssandra
delyssandra

Who cares if its delicious? Why do people have to brag about it and flaunt it. I LOVE BACON! Who gives a sh*t? 

joestuffsda
joestuffsda

What so-called sane society eats Earch's garbage cleaners?

BettyADuffy
BettyADuffy

When I finished reading this article, I thought, "Yum, bacon!!" After reading some of the comments I'm thinking that people are NUTS!!! And also, "Yum, bacon!"

TravisStatham
TravisStatham

You forgot that bacon is healthy. Since we now know that carbohydrates are terrible for you...giving you obesity, diabetes, cancer, and most other 'first world diseases' we can turn to bacon for healthy eats. It's high in fat, and low in protein, the best food combination you can have. It also adds flavors to other meats.

You also said that 'everyone loves bacon' which is false because Jews and Muslims can't touch the stuff. 

The_DylanCooke
The_DylanCooke

The coolness paragraph is bizarre and devoid of meaning.  What do you mean by a food being 'cool'?  In vogue?  Nope, because you define the insatiably popular Taylor Swift as decidedly uncool.  Perhaps elite?  I doubt it, considering there more gourmet hamburgers and pizzas than gourmet bacons (especially if you don't consider pancetta or prosciutto 'bacon', which I expect the writer wouldn't).  Defining which artists are so much 'cooler' than Nicki Minaj and which foods are so much 'cooler' than bacon would make this strange argument a little less abstract.  Of course, even that definition might not clarify the meaning, as the writer is both arguing bacon isn't cool, and that bacon is cooler than almost every other hip food item.

Anyway, the article as a whole is really, quite frankly, embarrassing.  The author attempted a few years ago to be super-edgy-awesome-cool and list a bunch of reasons why bacon was a passing fad.  Now that such predictions proved false, he's back to list all the super-edgy-awesome-cool reasons he knew all along that silly American consumers would continue to devour bacon - coincidentally, at what is quite likely to be the end of the bacon fad, given the impending bacon price hikes that may open the door to new culinary fads.  What's worst of all is that this "never mind I knew it all along" flip-flopping is articulated with such pretentious vocabulary and superfluous pseudo-analysis for a food hardly more than a garnish, barely even a side dish, that one assumes the article is driven not by culinary journalism, but egocentric elitism.

maknoblauch
maknoblauch

The article probably would have been interesting had I not spent the so much time trying to interpret the author's intentions.

In one paragraph was proximate cause . . . incredulity . . . grossly formulaic . . . overemotes . . . trope of oaf-pandering

We know you went to school.  You don't have to prove it. 

AbramTamez
AbramTamez

Why?  Because you haven't seen the inside of a slaughterhouse, you loser!

musicdorian
musicdorian

Think eating bacon is manly.  Wait until it's cholesterol and fat jams up your circulation in your private parts, sending you to your doctor for viagra (meanwhile the vegetarian is f*#<ing your girlfriend.)

Bellicosa
Bellicosa

I'm confused why this soap box exists.

ShellyAutumn
ShellyAutumn

Bacon has 2 of the 3  "fat-american" food groups,1.  salt and  2. fat....the third is sugar.   Yeah diabetes and heart attacks and other diseases !!

ShellyAutumn
ShellyAutumn

Bacon in macaroni and cheese, and you can still taste the bacon !!

HankSimms
HankSimms

This article is blasphemy and the "journalist" needs to chase a real story.  Why would you write a story with a premise of NON DEMISE of something you claim to enjoy?  I would rather read an article about hobbits or unicorns.  At least I expect them to be complete nonsense.

AlexViada
AlexViada

tl;dr version:  BACON!  BACON BACON BAAACON!    That's pretty much what I got out of it anyway.

SteveCurrlin
SteveCurrlin

Cultural lingua franca? Really!?!?! No, it's just bacon and it tastes good. Jeeez!!!

FoodLovingChuck
FoodLovingChuck

My son tells me that means “it is the fifth flavor; and it doesn’t get any better”, hai!

BS_Shane
BS_Shane

LOVE Bacon!  But limit it (1 slice/day, 2x/week), as we have most meats.   We've bumped up our diets of veggies (esp. dark greens) and many grains (brn. rice, faro, quinoa, polenta, couscous....).

All I wanna add here is a "Bacon Cheeseburger" is a WASTE of TWO great ingredients.  As the author said, bacon is often tasteless (AND Limp & Soggy) inside a Cheeseburger.  I iwant crisp or firm bacon.  Ditto the Cheese in Cheeseburgers!  It's usually tasteless Mild or Medium cheese.  IOW, neither the bacon nor the whimpy cheese stands up to "(1-2) all-beef-patties, special sauce and a sesame-seed bun!"  

IOW, most "Bacon Cheeseburgers" offer tons of fat w/ almost ZERO more flavor!  I prefer bacon on the side (crisp/firm), and separate chunks of cheese I prefer (XXXX-Sharp, Stinky, Triple-Cream-Soft (then aged until stinky)).  Coffee: Fresh-Brewed & Black.  French-Fries: Just-Fried, w/ extra salt!

IOW, pure, simple tastes matter!  

Having said all that, I'm glad kids did NOT adopt salty, fatty diets. We kept salt shakers away from kids' seats. WE added salt, but kids NEVER did!!!  Ditto diets:  We taught kids how to stir-fry Asian meals:  tons of veggies they helped choose, little meat.  Kids loved both the meals AND making 'em.

GabyAbed
GabyAbed

Bacon IS Umami, that is all.  Any further debate is heresy.  Hail bacon!

FoodLovingChuck
FoodLovingChuck

A few crisp bacon strips, some kimchee, and Pixie Mayonnaise, wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla; oh my! I need to fire up the stove.

HannoverFisst
HannoverFisst

I would also like to add that bacon is the #1 food that makes vegetarians and vegans 'cheat' or switch back to meat completely. Oh sure, they'll tell you they hate the small of bacon, but that's only because it's like fine perfume on a beautiful woman... irresistible.

PusiKurac
PusiKurac

I just butchered a pig yesterday. Full of fat, but I don't know how to make bacon out of it. I just barbecued the whole pig. Lots of mouthwatering taste. I figure this one will last me a month. I just cut it to pieces and put in the fridge and now I just eat it every day slowly. I will butcher another one next month. I built me self a custom barbecue. $60 worth of meat last me a month.

douglitas
douglitas

Welcome to 21st century America, where the First World cry of "you can't stop me from eating my precious bacon!" is stated with the conviction of a deeply held belief in human rights. This is an odd time in history, and one that will no doubt be studied by those who survive it with eating habits more similar to herbivores.

steverino
steverino

I liked bacon before it was popular.

UleNotknow
UleNotknow

"But what you can taste is fat." That's it in a nutshell, folks. Whether it's meats, baking, or cooking in general, fat equates to flavor, pure and simple. It's one reason that pastries made with real butter stands tall over any other... and it's the reason that bacon rules supreme.

DirkinSyler
DirkinSyler

low sodium.  They've taken the sodium out of everything that's supposed to have it.  Lots of stuff is just bland without a little salt.  Adding bacon is a pretty miserable way to put salt back in.  /but both are 'fashionable'.  And isn't that more important than health OR flavor?

DAX
DAX

once all the Americans turn to Muslim,Big Better Bacon is Doomed

ChrisGray
ChrisGray

And I say this as someone who is mostly Pescatarian, you have way too much time on your hands. :)

wwatl34
wwatl34

Really, leave it someone to try and ruin a Pulitzer Prize winning ode to Bacon.  I love bacon.  I'm from the South so I actually put in every vegetable I cook.  I've eaten chocolate covered bacon, for the person talking about endorphines.  But honestly, it's not some crazed endorphine rush....it's the taste.  Nothing can touch the taste of bacon.  Hell,,,,Denny's puts it on ice cream with maple topping.  So to the Pita guys....I'm all about humane treatment, but back off the bacon. 

Shuruppag
Shuruppag

@BS_Shane I like the way you think. Eat well, indulge occasionally, and do it right. There's no need to be dogmatic, whether in the direction of a hectoring vegan or an artery-clogged carnivore. The middle way will serve you better than either asceticism or debauchery.

musicdorian
musicdorian

You only say that because you don't have the moral fibre to be a vegetarian.  You are the one who would be drawn back by the smell of burning flesh.  After decades of being a vegetarian, I smell flesh cooking and it doesn't draw me back, if fact, it reminds me of a crematorium.  Vegetarian will rarely need viagra.  You meat eaing fools are the ones who, claiming manliness, run to your doctors because you can't get it up.  Vegetarians enjoy low blood pressure, way fewer heart attack or strokes, no erecitile disfuction.  Go ahead, tell yourself more lies.

musicdorian
musicdorian

Sorry to disappoint you. I've been a vegetarian for decades.  The smell of Bacon has done nothing but discust me.

AmericanAtheist
AmericanAtheist

@douglitas Generally humans breed before the harmful effects of their diet terminates their lives. Strict vegetarians would be less likely to live through an near extinction level event, simply because they would be rejecting an entire food source. In simple terms, who is more likely to survive, a hunter/gatherer or a gatherer? What do you do when there is nothing digestible to gather? Who protects your crops? 

The military has a term, "three days to animal." It's the amount of time that your average 1st world individual can exist without food and water before they will take it forcefully. The U.S. government studied this extensively because it is part of the continuity of government planning scenarios, should a disaster occur. Just 3 days without food and water and then, statistically, one of your neighbors will take your food and water by ANY means necessary.

Sleep tight ;)

RobertPowell
RobertPowell

@ChrisGray What is "mostly" pescetarian?  You are, or you aren't.  If you cheat here and there and steal off with some bacon, or a chicken nugget, or whatever... then you aren't a pescetarian. :)

AmericanAtheist
AmericanAtheist

@musicdorian "Vegetarian will rarely need viagra", can you cite a peer reviewed medical or scientific source for this proclaimed fact? 

"Vegetarians enjoy low blood pressure, way fewer heart attack or strokes, no erecitile disfuction", really, every single vegetarian? Didn't you just say "vegetarian rarely need viagra". Why would they need it at all if they have "no erectile disfuction?

"Go ahead, tell yourself more lies", no thanks, you done a good job of that for us...

P.S. you misspelled disfunction, or as it is more properly written dysfunction. However, you didn't get either correct.

douglitas
douglitas

@AmericanAtheist @douglitas Your near extinction scenario is thought-provoking but, frankly, silly in this context. None of the circumstances you listed in your post play a role in current decadent American culture, and surely don't figure into the rationale of these "bacon is my human right" people.

It's worth noting that most people who eat at a lower trophic level when they're able to are also willing to, you know, survive when they need to by eating other available food sources. So I won't be losing any sleep waiting for doomsday.

AmericanAtheist
AmericanAtheist

@AbramTamez Your terrible at trolling, you should find a better use of your time. I bet that pig cooked up nice and yummy. "You're getting weaker" chimp boy.

AmericanAtheist
AmericanAtheist

@AbramTamez @AmericanAtheist The crazy guy who looks like a bald chimp (yep, I went there) thinks I'm weak. How does eating meat make me weak. Do you hunt your own broccoli  Even get bit by a green bean? No???

You are the weak one, you need a cause to justify your existence...