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Focus on Agriculture

October 29, 2012

Bacon is Big

By Stewart Truelsen

Bacon is undoubtedly America’s best-loved and most maligned meat product. It has been the subject of studies trying to link consumption of large amounts of processed meat with some cancers, and nutrition consultants often discourage clients from eating bacon because of its fat content.

Yet, bacon hasn’t lost any of its sizzle. The American Meat Institute reports that bacon has an almost cult-like following with dozens of Facebook fan pages and blogs with tens of thousands of readers.

For some reason, bacon just can’t seem to stay out of the news. As the nation’s severe drought wore on this summer, consumers became worried about higher food prices and shortages. What food product did they fear losing the most? Why it was bacon, of course.

The bacon scare began in the British press and made headlines everywhere despite the lack of any real basis in fact. The Huffington Post Blog called it “aporkalypse,” the beginning of the end for bacon lovers. But, analysis by American Farm Bureau Federation economists showed pork supplies will decrease slightly going into 2013 and the idea of widespread bacon shortages was really overblown.

Refrigerated bacon is a $2 billion industry, one in which sales actually rose during the nation’s severe economic downturn a few years back. In stores and on the Internet shoppers can buy flavored bacons and hand-crafted bacons made by artisans using old fashioned curing methods and hand labor. This premium bacon is two or three times the cost of regular bacon, which is usually inexpensive.

Bacon also is the star of one of the most popular recipes on the internet – the Bacon Explosion, a barbeque dish the size of a football. A Bacon Explosion consists of bacon wrapped around a filling of spiced sausage and crumpled bacon. It is then smoked or baked.

The Bacon Explosion notwithstanding, bacon can be part of a diet to lose weight. The Atkins Diet is based on the premise that a person can lose weight by eating meat and eliminating carbs. Now there is also the Paleo Diet, which mimics what cavemen would have eaten during the Paleolithic Age before the dawn of agriculture. Bacon and other meats are in, but grains are out with this diet.

The idea behind the Paleo Diet is that we are genetically programmed to be healthier if we eat what our distant ancestors ate. Whether hunter-gatherers actually ate bacon is arguable. However, wild boars are indigenous to Europe, so a successful hunter with a sharp stone, fire and salt could have cured meat.

Pigs were domesticated at least 7,000 years ago. The Chinese get credit for being the first to salt pork bellies around 1500 BC. The English gave it the name bacon in the seventeenth century.


Stewart Truelsen is a regular contributor to the Focus on Agriculture series.