Monday, October 18, 2010

In defense of bacon: Despite what the critics say, the bacon craze is here to stay

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge bacon

The Wall Street Journal recently reported backlash against a so-called "Bacon Bubble" as if it were a cutting-edge story.  The website CHOW declared two years ago that bacon was overexposed. You see, the Journal's analysts are lousy at predicting "bubbles." They've finally woken up and smelled the bacon.

There is even a wiki entry for "Bacon Mania," which better describes the situation: a temporary state of insanity for anything derived from those sizzling strips of salt-cured pork.

The high-protein Atkins diet may have contributed to bacon's popularity, but bloggers and fast food restaurants have made bacon a fetish for years. The fast food marketplace, as if in a greasy arms race, has cranked out progressively more outrageous menu items, all featuring bacon. Hence Burger King's monstrous Omelet Sandwich (2005). Wendy's silly Baconator (2007), a half pound double cheeseburger with six strips of bacon, seemed extreme for a little while.  Then KFC marketed its abominable Double Down (2009), two fried chicken breasts with cheese and bacon in between. Even Taco Bell got in on the bacon action with its own pathetic Bacon Cheesy Potato Burrito (2009).

Chefs, bartenders and artists have joined the porcine orgy, too, with bacon and bourbon, bacon candy, Baconnaise, bacon-free Bacon Salt, chocolate-covered bacon, bacon ice cream, bacon lip balm, bacon soap, a bacon AK-47, a disturbing sculpture of Kevin Bacon made from bacon, a gun that creates bacon-flavored bubbles. All kinds of kitschy garbage. Even Baconlube, a bacon-flavored personal lubricant.

Let’s admit it: the bacon jubilee has gotten out of hand and is just plain silly. Americans have a fondness for playing with their food, spawning cultural monstrosities like bacon sculptures and bacon eating contests. Yes, bacon eating contests. Sigh. I haven't seen such a depraved crowd since Congress was in session.

Academics might say that bacon is a loaded cultural signifier. For some dedicated carnivores, bacon is a symbol of masculine hunger and indulgence meant to enrage vegans, vegetarians, mothers, wives and doctors. The worship of bacon represents a backlash against the health-conscious, diet-obsessed, politically correct country that we've become.  Or you could think of it as a cry for help from a nation with a masculinity complex that obsesses over its health but keeps gaining weight.

The Wall Street Journal suggests that after the bacon bubble bursts, the tired ingredient will be replaced by new flavor enhancers, such as miso paste or toasted pumpkin seed oil. These surely are the end times for the Bacon Bubble, the critics crow.

But say what you want, critics. Despite years of this absurd bacon bacchanal, the trend shows no sign of receding. Bacon isn’t going anywhere. Here’s why.

  • It is popular for good reasons, tasting of salt, smoke and fat, a concentrated flavor booster that complements a variety of ingredients. Crispy bacon has a textural edge over most ingredients, varying between crispy and chewy.
  • Unlike the value of my home, bacon prices are stable and rising (25% in the last three years).
  • When food faddists move on to the next fetish, bacon’s position in the nation’s cuisine will be just as secure as it is now.
  • This country fell in love with pretty lousy bacon in the first place. As manufacturers produce superior bacon, people will fall in love all over again. Nueske’s is only the beginning.
  • Bacon will always have a sentimental place in middle America’s heart. The smell of toasted pumpkin seed oil does not evoke fond childhood memories for most of us.
  • Bacon has two unassailable niches in American cuisine: breakfast and burgers.
  • Bacon grease is ripe to become a fad in itself.
  • If you want to look into real culinary “bubbles,” look to the recent glorification of cupcakes, sliders and mojitos.
  • If it was possible to satiate America’s appetite for calories and fat, the "Cheap/Fake Cheese Bubble" would have burst long ago.

Photo: shawnzam, via Flickr.

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