About 20 years ago, my then girlfriend had just returned from her grandmother’s house holding two paper shopping bags full of department store Christmas gifts. She pulled out a few dozen clothing and accessory items, all of which held little interest for me. Then she brought out a cellophane-wrapped plate of something that looked like cookies. I responded with the appropriate level of excitement. Before I was unable to pull back the cellophane barrier, she provided a bit of an advisory, “They are breakfast cookies and they have bacon in them.” The notion that there was such a thing as a “breakfast cookie” and that it actually contained bacon was both alluring and subtly repellant. Nevertheless, I tried one (and then another) and immediately understood the sweet, salty, fatty appeal of the bacon-laced cookie.
Just a few years ago I was attending a food trade show in New York and was oddly tickled and moderately disappointed that bacon was being touted as the new “it” ingredient in just about everything. There was bacon salt, bacon mayonnaise, bacon chocolate, “fakin” bacon, bacon doughnuts, and yes, even bacon cookies (although not nearly as good as what I remembered). The food press got a hold of the bacon story early (around 2007) and wringed the life out of it until there was nothing left but a can of grease and a few snarky things to say about bacon being far too trendy. Bloggers and journalists alike called for the death of bacon (or maybe that was death by bacon) and an immediate halt to the growing bacon trend. But bacon doesn’t have ears and bacon only hears the crackle of the hot grease, which sounds a lot like applause.
Over the past 3 years or so, bacon has become, not just trendy, but utterly ubiquitous. You can’t open a menu, walk past a food truck, or even get an ice cream cone without staining your fingers with bacon grease. Bacon is fatty, salty, and aggressive with an appeal that is primal and indulgent. But while there exists a bacon elite, with their bacon of the month clubs, and their heritage-breed smoked bacon (or to take it one step further, there are the pork belly enthusiasts), most of bacons appeal is largely egalitarian and populist.
Bacon (which is just cured strips of pork belly) while hardly a vegetarian favorite (see fakin bacon) holds an undeniable appeal for just about anyone looking for an unapologetic fatty indulgence. It is relatively cheap, and intensely flavorful, bringing a smoky depth to whatever it comes in contact with. The general thinking is that everything is better wrapped in, or at least infused with, bacon. There is now bacon vodka on the market, bacon cologne, and something called “Baconalia” which is being “celebrated” at Denny’s and is punctuated by a Maple-Bacon Sundae. Whether it is a case of collective entitlement or just a further yearning for the consummate comfort food, bacon is one thing people fell is worth dying over.
Whether this is a prolonged food trend, or a carnivorous compulsion, it is painfully clear that bacon’s appeal will be stretched beyond the limits of good taste. While the intrepid vegetarian will still be able to easily avoid these strips of flesh, it will be more and more difficult to avoid seeing fellow diners ply themselves with every conceivable form of bacon in a veritable orgy of fatty pork products (at least until a good percentage of them collapse due to arterial blockages).
What is your feeling on bacon as a trend, or a phenomenon? Is it worth all of the excitement?