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The Bacon Bug: A History And Commentary

A rather serious illness that affects your judgment, emotions and cholesterol

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Remember waking up in the morning to the smell of sizzling bacon, the sight of paper towels damp with grease and the taste of room temp strips? These food memories invoke nostalgia and surface cravings, leading to an emotional attachment so powerful it has sparked a nationwide bacon movement.

Bacon Mania refers to the zealous bacon fever that has, one crunchy strip at a

time, taken America by storm. Although the craze has taken a modern spin, it can be traced to 1924, when Oscar Mayer began producing packaged, pre-sliced bacon. Prior, the meat could only be found at butcheries or on menus. Armed with convenient bacon strips, Oscar Mayer became a household name.

Soon enough, every home on the block was frying up bacon. It became the new breakfast staple. Children woke up to the smell and sizzling. Whether atop an egg sandwich or drenched in maple syrup, the scent wafted its way into the memories and hearts of those who grew up eating it. However, bacon's popularity was tested and its place in the American diet was questioned.

Due to the Atkins diet and the surge of high-protein, low fat foods in the 1980s and 90s that transformed the American food industry, bacon got a bad rep. Robert Atkins was inspired to create the low-carbohydrate diet, the Atkins Nutritional Approach, after reading “Weight Reduction” a research paper by Alfred W. Pennington. He used the diet to control his own weight problem and decided the world needed his help. When Atkins published Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in the mid 1970’s, which blamed obesity, cancer and heart issues on saturated fat and cholesterol, bacon became demonized for decades.

Although bacon took a beating, baby boomers, faced with an economic downturn and in need of simple and cheap comforts, did not let the anti-fat trend stand in their way of clinging to bacon. Fueled by bacon nostalgia, these boomers, raised on bacon in a time of economic security, are now leading the Bacon Mania.

We find comfort in the foods of our childhood. Celebratory cakes have gone widespread and mainstream with ubiquitous cupcake shops. Their mission: to deliver the joy and excitement of your 9th birthday party in a bite-size, gourmet flavored grab-and-go frosted treat. The grilled cheese sandwich is a childhood lunch staple and it's more popular than ever in a grown up form. Plastic-wrapped cheese singles on white Wonder Bread has transformed into cheddar and smoked gouda with cranberry chutney on sourdough. And the king of all comfort foods, bacon, is ever present on the corner diner’s menu waiting to take you back in time.

The emotional pull of bacon is so strong that it attracts bacon-lovers from all

over North America to come together and rejoice in their shared love for it, and they wouldn’t dare to “miss snout on it.” In 2014 alone, there are 54 bacon festivals scheduled around North America, from the Bacon Fest in Juneau, Alaska to the Bacon Bash in Cranfills Gap, Texas and even to the exciting Big Bacon Bonanza in Davenport, Iowa.

Zingerman’s Deli, an Ann Arbor, Michigan institution since 1982 with a national mail order business, organizes the annual Camp Bacon. Bacon fanatics are now able to save their spot for the event, which attracts those who just want to “celebrate all things bacon-from bacon makers, producers, poets, historians and musicians,” while having fun, learning and snacking. Campers board buses on their way to pork heaven, greeted by enthusiastic counselors dressed in head-to-toe bacon costumes. An event purely powered by pork, the camp fundraises for a good cause: the Southern Foodways Alliance. While tasting and talking, “pork-centric” people get to support a charity and bond over the pork belly they know and love.

“Food is the great equalizer,” celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says. “You can bring a group of people together from all walks of life and generations, and suddenly you are all speaking a common language, having a joined experience.” The shared experience of bacon at the breakfast table has morphed into a collective American tradition. One that is perpetuated from one generation to the next by a nostalgic yearning for a simpler and happier time as our society and our world becomes faster, more complex and more contentious.

This yearning has exploded into Bacon Mania, which allows the comfort of bacon to soothe you in a bar while you converse and sip on a bacon-and-gin cocktail, in the morning when you’re awoken with a start by the smell of bacon cooking in an alarm clock or at a work event, where you nervously nibble on a bacon wrapped water chestnut appetizer. Perhaps sometime soon psychiatrists will be prescribing a bacon wrapped donut a day instead of 20 milligrams of Prozac.

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