Life, liberty and the pursuit of bacon

In the dim, faraway days of youth, bacon

In the dim, faraway days of youth, bacon was merely a cut-rate substitute for the meat your parents couldn't afford. Now, all of a sudden, it's a craze. (Credit: iStock)

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What's the deal with bacon?

In the dim, faraway days of youth, bacon was merely a cut-rate substitute for the meat your parents couldn't afford. Now, all of a sudden, it's a craze -- the iPad of the pork industry.

According to analysts, sales increased better than 11 percent last summer over the previous year, meaning -- are you ready for this? -- shoppers spent $2.4 billion on a food not likely to be prescribed by Dr. Oz any time soon.

In a MeatPoultry.com story, Denny's restaurant chain claims the average American eats 18 pounds of bacon a year, reason enough for the company to launch a sales campaign called "Baconalia! A Celebration of Bacon." (Featured was a maple-bacon sundae -- syrup, vanilla ice cream and "a generous sprinkle of our diced hickory-smoked bacon.")

There are bacon apps for the smartphone crowd, and the Internet is loaded with rhapsodic websites, including a blog by "Mr. Baconpants" that, on one page, displays the famous Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painting of Washington crossing the Delaware but with a huge "BACON" pennant replacing the American flag. (See for yourself at mrbacon pants.com/the-reason-why-bacon-is-so-popular.)

It is only a matter of time before this revisionist interpretation convinces unwitting American schoolchildren that victory over the Redcoats was gained not by virtue of musket and revolutionary zeal but by force-feeding British troops BLTs until their arteries collapsed (which, according to no-fun medical experts, wouldn't take long).

Michelle Obama, U.S. Secretary of Sensible Eating, can implore Americans to follow a sane diet but, let's be honest, it's no use. As Jason Mosley, Mr. Baconpants, himself, explains on his blog "healthy eating is almost government mandated" these days and "causing more people to join the anti-health movement than ever before."

Say this for Americans: When the heavy hand of Big Brother threatens, they neither faint nor falter. Nosirree, bub. They rise up bravely against tyranny, or whatever it is when someone tells you to eat your salad and quit dipping the french fries in Thousand Island dressing.

Just as gun enthusiasts hurried to bolster their arsenals after the 2008 election for fear the new guy in the White House would ban firearms and allow the country to be annexed by Sweden, pork belly patriots now are defying highfalutin' food advisories by stripping bare the bacon stock in supermarket meat coolers and rolling out the heavy artillery.

And that does not mean bacon-wrapped scallops. Please. So 1950s!

Make way for chicken fried bacon (batter the bacon, then fry), chocolate covered bacon, bacon cheeseburgers on Krispy Kreme doughnuts (look it up), the fantabulous KFC "Double Down" chicken-cheese-bacon concoction known to doubters as "angina on a plate," seven-layer bacon salad, bacon cupcakes, bacon-flavored cotton candy, bacon popcorn, bacon martinis, bacon lollipops, bacon Fluffernutters (marshmallow cream coupled with peanut butter), and the incomparable Bacon Explosion -- Italian sausage rolled inside a lattice work basket of bacon, painted with barbecue sauce and baked. Slice that baby into puck-size pieces, slide onto biscuits and, as one cook said, "You'll reach pork nirvana in no time flat!"

The intrepid chef may not be far wrong about an express trip to the ever after.

Nutrition writer Elaine Magee notes that nearly 70 percent of bacon's calories come from fat, half of which is the saturated sort we are forever being told to avoid. Worse, bacon is in the "processed" meat category. As Magee observes, the American Institute for Cancer Research says no -- as in, zero -- processed items serve as prudent menu choices. Renata Micha of the Harvard School of Public Health told CBS News: "Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid."

Meat officials object to this sort of talk but needn't worry.

This is America, right? We are a daredevil tribe. We drive without seat belts in tipsy SUVs while talking or texting on cellphones and drinking coffee in mugs the size of mortar shells. We invented Jell-O shots, Xtreme Fighting, reality TV and a series called "Jackass." We cross highways against traffic at night, wearing black clothing, attend football games shirtless and in body paint and pierce even the most private of parts as though to remind ourselves they exist and require occasional attention.

So, bacon? Bring it on. Old, young, everyone loves the stuff.

Our granddaughter, age 10, would eat bacon daylong if her parents allowed.

When I asked Grace, usually a talkative child, why she loved bacon so much, she merely looked away dreamily and giggled. "If you don't know, no words can explain," was her clear intent.

For Christmas, we gave Gracie a pair of earrings. One was the likeness of a fried egg. The other, a slice of bacon. As a bonus, we put a half-pound of her favorite food in holiday wrap. Gracie squealed as though we had announced Justin Bieber had dumped Selena Gomez and was downstairs under the mistletoe.

Now, if only Mom and Dad would let her near a frying pan.

Are you passionate about bacon, or have you given up pork belly for something healthier? Tell us your bacon story for possible publication. Write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. Please include your name, address, day and evening phone numbers.

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