You Like Bacon Because They Told You To

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You are a North American, and probably a male, and so you like bacon. Bacon good, you say, making that Tim Allen caveman face: Me like bacon. Me not want to eat unbacon food. Bacon make food better. Me put bacon on burger, in chocolate, around scallop. Me brush teeth with bacon toothpaste. Me make love to wife with bacon dick. Me like bacon!

The past decade has seen bacon rise from its former station as a humble yolk delivery device in disreputable breakfast joints to its current status as the totemic foodstuff of the American man. Nowadays, bacon serves as a kind of shorthand for masculine credibility in food: Everyone from low-end fast-food chains to high-end Runway Food restaurants sticks bacon on their shit as a way of communicating Hey, this isn't just mechanized corporate foodvertisement/effete conceptual self-congratulation; it's also good-ass food for regular-ass dudes! Because: Everyone loves bacon. Even those who occasionally bristle at bacon's omnipresence are obliged to make yeah-well-I-mean-sure-it-tastes-great-and-I-love-it-but noises—not so different from the ones I'm making right now!

People like to think of the Bacon Ascent as a thing that happened organically: That, when popular attitudes toward dietary fat lightened up in the early '90s, bacon naturally reentered the American diet, and that the mania for it ballooned as a natural consequence of its deliciousness. People like to think this because people like bacon, but more importantly, people like to think it because people like to think of their tastes and preferences as pure, self-contained things unto themselves: I like the things I like because they are good. This is a very American thing, this need to see oneself as cleanly, completely divisible from and uninfluenced by the rest of the world. American, like bacon!


Ah, but like so many other things, this myth turns out to be what anthropologists refer to as "a big ol' load of poo." According to this fun and informative Businessweek history of the bacon craze, actually, you love bacon because you are a tool of your corporate overlords.

It goes like this: For a long time, people were cool with bacon. They put it in BLTs, they dipped it in their egg yolks, they laid it across their baked beans. They liked bacon, but they did not worship it. It was just another tasty foodstuff. Then, the anti-fat diet craze of the 1980s happened, and all of a sudden people were not cool with bacon, because people (wrongly, it turns out) believed that bacon's fat content (it's like 60 percent fat) made it a particular nutritional hazard.


This damaged the pork industry, because suddenly pork belly , which had been a steadily profitable commodity for decades, was damn near worthless. Pork bellies got so undesirable at a certain point that pork farmers were taking their bellies to Eastern Europe to look for anyone who'd buy them. Imagine that! Americans dragging bacon across the ocean to beg a buncha friggin' Slavs to take it! The shame of it. Imagine the god damn shame of it.

And then some industry insiders got an idea: Hey, what if we basically just bribed a bunch of restaurateurs and fast-food joints to start putting bacon on their flavorless-ass food?


No, really:

A few Pork Board marketers, who worked with companies on the food service side of the industry (as opposed to retail), figured it couldn't hurt to at least try to kick-start bacon sales. They came up with a plan to reposition bacon as a "flavor enhancer" to the restaurant industry, because there was a greater chance of diners accepting bacon when they ate out.


Ironically, the anti-fat paradigm aided bacon's rise: Since a) fast-food joints were selling determinedly flavorless burgers made from the leanest meat they could find, and b) bacon was cheap as hell, thanks to the perceived undesirability of its fat content, a strip of cheap-ass bacon became a convenient way to make burgers taste like something, like any goddamn thing. And since consumers had been firing down flavorless, characterless burgers for so long by the time Hardee's rolled out its Frisco Burger with bacon in 1992, the experience of a burger that had actual flavor—even if it was the flavor of cured pork, rather than beef—was enough to drop jaws, and open wallets.

And so on from there: The pork industry "subsidized recipe development and market research," which is to say that it straight-up paid restaurant chains to add bacon to their burgers, and consumers, by now conditioned by the comparative blandness of non-bacon-covered burgers to think the words bacon and flavor were synonymous, flocked to the bacon-topped menu offerings. Bacon competition broke out: Burger King stuck bacon on a Whopper; Wendy's fired back with the Baconator; McDonalds will literally wrap your entire head in bacon if you know the secret code word (probably). Foodies picked up the craze, too, distancing themselves slightly by adopting uncured pork belly rather than the cured variety.


And so on. All because some pork industry lobbyists saw an opening created by the very same market force—the craze for lean, flavorless meat—that crashed the value of bacon in the first place. And now it's in everything: Salad dressing, vodka, toothpicks, mouthwash. Goddamn bacon-scented massage oil, presumably to facilitate the fantasy that you are sliding your hands over the hideous furry stomach of a mud-splattered pig rather than over the smooth skin and supple flesh of a boring human being. The Age of Bacon is upon us, because a buncha friggin' lobbyists said so.


That's right, suckers! The Man said fat is bad and you said I dunno The Man, I kinda like fat, and then he said what are you some kind of Communist and you said hell no I ain't no Communist, I hate fat like a Real American. And then he said bacon is good and you said but wait, it has lots of fat, and he said but actually it's good, Americans like bacon, this is why everyone says you're a Communist, and you were all, oh, OK, I guess bacon actually is cool and good. What are you but a sheep in the thrall of The Man? A docile, glazed-eyed sheep, yielding to The Man's will, following him where he will go. A plump, fatty, delicious sheep.

Damn, now I want mutton. You win again, The Man.


Photo via Shutterstock.