Debating Bacon

I have a confession to make. In the nine years since I launched What's Cooking and the two-plus years of writing A Mighty Appetite, I've been having a secret gastronomic love affair.

All these years, I've kept my paramour on the down low, sharing my love only when I knew like-minded fiends were at the table. I've been leading a double life -- on the one hand, I'm advocating healthy cooking and hosting monthly meatless Web chats, and then when no one's looking, I'm swooning over the smoky perfume of...

BACON.

Say it ain't so, I can hear the vegetarians cry. But the truth is, I'm a card-carrying member of Bacon Lovers of America, even though I know it spikes my cholesterol and packs on the pounds. Other than a bag of chips, it's the one food that turns me into a compulsive eater. In fact, I've come to learn that if I don't have a bacon-specific project (such as seasoning beans or making pasta carbonara), I cannot be left alone with a tray of cooked bacon. I will eat every last strip.

I've got it real bad.

As I pondered this week about what to make for supper, all I wanted was a bowl of carbonara, but I refrained because in spite of my obsession, I try to limit my bacon intake to once a month (we had carbonara night in mid-December).

Aside from the obvious health risks, bacon elicits extreme reactions on both sides of the fence. You either love it or hate it -- there's no undecided bacon contingent in America. Guilty and conflicted? Yes. But undecided? Not a chance.

To prove my point, I've put together the following poll, and I invite you to weigh in on this very fatty matter.

In the midst of my pork belly research, I've discovered kindred spirits in the blogosphere. There are blogs dedicated to bacon, including Bacon Challenge, with the goal of eating one piece of bacon a day for an entire year; Bacon Unwrapped, a one-woman fascination with all things bacon, from merchandise to baco-centric media; and The Bacon Show, which promises "one bacon recipe, per day, every day, forever." I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mister Bacon Pants, who offers a swell gift guide, and get your grubby paws on this juicy morsel: a bacon-studded chocolate bar by Vosges.

For the road, I leave you with the following video clip featuring comedian Jim Gaffigan, who delivered an ode to bacon last fall on an episode of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."

By Kim ODonnel |  January 10, 2008; 10:06 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Meat
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Comments

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Oh Kim how I love bacon! I could probably eat it everyday. But, I very rarely have it. Since I live alone, if I let myself buy a package of bacon I will eat the whole thing in 2 or 3 days. So, I almost never have bacon in the house. But, eating bacon out or at someone else's house doesn't count! I have also learned that if I need a fix, I can buy just a few stips at the Whole Foods meat counter rather than a whole package.

Posted by: Sweetie | January 10, 2008 10:26 AM

I LOVE bacon, but I only buy turkey bacon for home consumption. It's definitely not the same thing, but it's not half bad. I only have the real thing once in a while, and always away from home.

Posted by: Gaithersburg Girl | January 10, 2008 10:34 AM

I am confused about the different types of bacon available. What is the difference between cured and uncured? Don't some claim to be nitrate free?

Posted by: 20010 | January 10, 2008 10:35 AM

20010, Great question.
Cured bacon, for most part, does in fact contain sodium nitrites or nitrates. This would include many of the supermarket-style bacons out there, from brands such as Hormel, Oscar Mayer, etc. There are also artisanal bacons out there, cured in other ways. Niman Ranch, for example, cures with celery juice.
I buy my bacon from local farms, and it's uncured, a notion that was new to me several years ago but one I've come to prefer.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 10, 2008 10:46 AM

As a Christmas gift, this showed up under our tree www.baconsalt.com. I've yet to try it, but my brother seems to be enjoying it... bacon without the guilt and fat and cholesterol.... And it is vegetarian too! Seems odd, but could be a great option.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 10:48 AM

I got the Vosges bacon bar as a Christmas gift. It's delicious, sweet and salty!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 11:02 AM

I'm with you, Kim, I try to limit my bacon intake to once a month or so. And as I live alone, I rarely buy it as it is enjoyed much too quickly. This post reminds me of what Anthony Bourdain said during a recent talk in DC. Basically he sees bacon as the cure of vegatarianism and encourages meat-eaters to cook bacon in the presence of vegetarians and see how long they can hold out. I'm not quite that militant, but I can appreciate his point.

Posted by: Allison | January 10, 2008 11:03 AM

How could you forget http://www.gratefulpalate.com/

Posted by: Arlington | January 10, 2008 11:10 AM

Bacon is the main reason I'm flexitarian, not vegetarian like my husband (OK, also sausage, ham, and bbq ... mmmm ... I'm sensing a pork theme here.)
Anyway, I recently ran across this bacon flowchart. Sums the whole thing up pretty well.
http://www.beerorkid.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/bacon-_flowchart.jpg

Posted by: Midge | January 10, 2008 11:12 AM

Wow that Bourdain comment reminds me of this Michael Pollan quote,

"There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham."

Posted by: melissa | January 10, 2008 11:21 AM

Picked up some forest-fed bacon at the Alexandria farmer's market last weekend, and it must have not been cured, because it was definitely a different taste experience. Much more 'meaty' than traditional bacon, if that makes any sense. Mmmmmm, bacon!

Posted by: Alexandria | January 10, 2008 11:27 AM

I'm a huge fan of that flowchart. Thanks for the hilarious link.

Posted by: To Midge | January 10, 2008 11:33 AM

I've been vegetarian for six years, and one of the things I miss the most is a little pile of chewy, salty, wonderfully greasy bacon on my breakfast plate.

Like anonymous up there, I've learned to compensate somewhat with smoked salts in dishes, and tempeh bacon is a reasonable sub in BLTs and the like. But oh, bacon on its own beside fluffy yellow scrambled eggs...

Posted by: Karen | January 10, 2008 11:33 AM

I, and my siblings LOVE bacon. When we are all together at our mom's, there is a bacon war every morning! I keep it at home, frozen in individual strips, so it is easy to access. We usually eat it one or both weekend mornings, and I don't care about the 'bad for you'aspect.

Posted by: Kathy | January 10, 2008 11:35 AM

could you post your carbonara recipe?

Posted by: mj | January 10, 2008 11:48 AM

Well, I'm probably somewhat unusual -- I love the smell of bacon, probably more than even the taste. However, I am a vegetarian and won't eat it. And for the person whose friend wanted to tempt vegetarians -- my non-veg family cooks it all the time, and I've never even been tempted. I have to say, bacon is one of those things that smells even better than it tastes.

Posted by: anon | January 10, 2008 11:53 AM

I think of bacon more as a flavoring than a meat product. I could be very happily vegetarian I think, except that I'd still want some fried jowl bacon crumbles on my lentil soup. Then on the other hand, if I'm going to eat a part of the animal, I really fell compelled to be a responsible consumer and make sure I'm trying to get to everything but the oink. It is a moral struggle, frankly. But it's just so good that it's worth it :)

Posted by: Baconlover | January 10, 2008 11:54 AM

Love bacon, but have a love/hate relationship with the smell. Great when it's cooking, but it seems to stay around forever, like cigarette smoke. So we cook it outside on the gas grill, even in cold weather. And, yes, I must ration myself!

Posted by: Washington, DC | January 10, 2008 12:10 PM

There's just nothing better than bacon. I don't care what form it comes in. We were having this discussion at work yesterday. If we just mix bacon and ice cream, I might be a happy camper. Two of my favorite things in one place.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | January 10, 2008 12:10 PM

I do like bacon; in fact, being pregnant has ratcheted up the intake to include blt sandwiches, toasted cheese and bacon sandwiches, bacon and egg sandwiches (do you detect a theme?)...

Typically our family will have bacon once in a while, when I think to purchase some at the store. Of course, now that I've found some really neat farmer's markets in our area, I will be exploring some nitrate-free and locally made bacon.

(And FWIW, I'd never make bacon in front of a veg. pal - we're also quite happy with the faux sausage links out there.)

Posted by: harerin | January 10, 2008 12:19 PM

Bacon is wonderful. My roommate and I actually have a rule that we have to make extra for whatever we're making, since the other of us will probably steal a strip or two if allowed near it. :)

If it was constantly in my house, I'd eat it constantly (good thing it's not). And there's nothing like it crumbled in a quiche or over a salad.... Good thing it's lunchtime, my mouth just started watering!

Posted by: Bacon! :) | January 10, 2008 12:21 PM

Are vegetarians allowed to smell bacon?

Posted by: bacon curious | January 10, 2008 12:28 PM

There's no substitute for bacon, but Lightlife's tempeh bacon is delicious in its own right. It makes a great sandwhich sauteed in a little oil and served on toasted whole wheat bread with tomatoes, mixed greens, and shredded carrots. And it's organic and minimally processed. (And I swear I don't work for the company.)

Posted by: mollyjade | January 10, 2008 12:41 PM

bacon rulz!

www.baconsalt.com

It's awesome, and I am no way affiliated with the company.

Posted by: a not so gourmet | January 10, 2008 12:57 PM

It took me a while to come around to loving bacon: once I discovered there was a middle ground between my mother's charcoal and a fast food restaurant's limp, chewy ickiness, I was sold.

And now that I'm pregnant, there's nothing better than a grilled bacon, cheese and tomato sandwich. Mmm.

Posted by: afbrat95 | January 10, 2008 1:01 PM

I say eat all the bacon you want - just go with pastured pork and stay away from the nitrites and nitrates.


Fat-phobics take note:

http://www.menshealth.com/cda/article.do?site=MensHealth&channel=health&category=heart.disease&conitem=a03ddd2eaab85110VgnVCM10000013281eac____

Posted by: Kelly | January 10, 2008 1:14 PM

Kim -- how does the uncured bacon taste? How does the taste compare to the cured stuff?

And how does the celery juice Niman ranch uses work? Never heard of that.

Posted by: Karen | January 10, 2008 2:46 PM

Bacon will kill you.

Jim Gaffagan on the other hand....will help you get healthy by laughing! You should search for his stand up on hot pockets.

Posted by: Kill | January 10, 2008 4:03 PM

You know, my husband actually said to me the other day: "You know, that was the only thing that I really missed when you were trying to be vegan. It's really the only thing keeping me from being one actually. I just love bacon. The tempeh strips were ok in their own right, but they just weren't the same thing." I'm going to have to show him your column.

Posted by: JJ | January 10, 2008 5:24 PM

I've actually had bacon ice cream at Blackbird in Chicago. It was paired with a hot fig beignet. Mmmm, delicious!

Posted by: M Street | January 10, 2008 6:29 PM

I agree that bacon is the food of the Gods. Kim or others, what is the best bacon and bacon vendor at eastern market?

Posted by: J | January 10, 2008 9:24 PM

mmm bacon

Posted by: K | January 10, 2008 11:14 PM

the other day I saw a photo of a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "bacon: the gateway meat." has anyone seen that shirt? know where to get it?

Posted by: conniecook | January 10, 2008 11:34 PM

Gotta tout my own blog, Bacon and Bakin': www.baconandbakin.blogspot.com

Posted by: Nicole | January 11, 2008 2:35 AM

I dunno, never a huge fan of bacon, and now that I've been vegetarian for 13 years, I doubt I'll get the taste for it. I'm indifferent to the smell, except for the pungency.

On another note, the very last thing I gave up, animal-wise, was anchovies. I'd have eaten those over bacon anytime! And that, more than bacon I think, is a harder taste to replicate.

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | January 11, 2008 1:07 PM

Uncured bacon is NOT bacon. The taste is completely different and not nearly as good as real bacon. Bring on the nitrites! (in moderation)

Posted by: K | January 11, 2008 1:13 PM

omg!! bacon bacon bacon ohhhh for the love a bacon!!

mr nall92 once purchased a case of bacon, over 300 slice. the intention was to seperate it, vacuum seal it and give some away and freeze the rest. well of course i had to have a blt, which in my world must have at least 7 slices. so i started cooking, ate a few slices, had to cook more for the sandwich, ate a few had to cook more, and so on and so on!!! LOL i spent an hour cooking and eating bacon and had absolutely NO guilt!!!

Posted by: nall92 | January 11, 2008 3:02 PM

My favorite quote from the show Stargate: Atlantis (two guys are discussing what they would bring from Earth if they had the chance to go back):
guy 1: Bacon? You'd bring bacon?
guy 2: Yeah, it's the food that makes other food taste good.

Posted by: KDH | January 11, 2008 6:44 PM

I would have become a vegetarian except I cannot kick the habit of eating bacon ... its one pleasure which I cannot give up on a Saturday morning.

Posted by: nickinikki | January 11, 2008 6:46 PM

Kim, come to Portland, OR and I will buy you a Bacon Maple Bar at Voodoo Donut.

The name is misleading - it's more doughnut than bar, it's maple-glazed and topped with two strips of crispy bacon. Yum.

Posted by: sparkalicious | January 12, 2008 1:47 AM

If you are going to be eating bacon once a month or even once a year, make sure you celebrate Bacon day, internationalbaconday.blogspot.com It is possibly the best day of the year, even better then christmas!

Posted by: Alexa | February 26, 2008 1:37 AM

What is the difference between back and middle bacon

Posted by: Brian | March 2, 2008 8:57 AM

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