Seattle Weekly bacon committee. Click the "View Media" button below to see the full-size image.
In bacon is the history of human civilization.
In ancient times, whenever man found wild boar, he domesticated it, kept it, cared for it, and looked upon his pigs like a flock of little refrigerators with feet--as future dinners waddling around the pen, as the immature form of delicious bacon to come. From Europe to Asia to New Guinea, wherever wild boar were found, they were quickly turned into captive pork-making machines: ribs and chops and loins and bellies just waiting for the salt or the cure.
The Romans ate bacon. They called it petaso and boiled it with figs, served it with wine, and made dinner of it. The prehistoric Germans were the first to name bacon, calling it bak, then bakke (meaning "back"), then bakkon, then bako. As they are wont to do, when the French discovered Germanic bako, they stole it, improved it, and renamed it bacon. The French occasionally claim that they invented bacon. But then the French occasionally claim that they invented everything edible in the world.In the Middle Ages, "bacon" referred to pretty much all pork products. Peasants would look at a pig and think, "Mmm . . . bacon." Which is pretty much what I do today. Pigs and all the delightful meat they produce were so popular that they were allowed to just wander the streets, living the porcine equivalent of the dandy's life right up until the moment someone got hungry. In 1131, a pig killed the heir to the French throne--spooking his horse and causing him to be thrown. He died, and as a result the government tried to ban the keeping and raising of pigs in cities--making laws that were more or less completely ignored by the people. It was bacon-related civil disobedience.
Columbus liked bacon. He brought pigs to the New World. John Harris liked bacon. He's the man most often named as creating the first commercial bacon-making company: in Wiltshire, England. We celebrate Columbus day every year. I think we should start celebrating Harris Day, too. At the very least, the man should have some statues raised in his honor.
It took until 1924 before we had pre-packaged bacon, arranged in slices, the way we most commonly see it today. The Oscar Mayer company is responsible for that, and for the shingled arrangement of bacon in its package. It's not as if Americans didn't eat bacon before 1924. We ate plenty. But we are a lazy people, and the minute that bacon became a "convenience food," we went crazy for it. 25 years later, 3 million companies were producing pork products in the United States, and most of those were makin' bacon.
At this point in history, bacon was merely a food. It was eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a survival protein during the Great Depression (because it was cheap and kept a little bit longer than other meats), and was as common as dirt. No one talked about bacon. No one obsessed over bacon. Bacon just was--an inextricable and irreducible element of the American diet, as common as air.
But in the years since , something has gone terribly wrong.
We all understand that bacon is delicious. We've known that, almost literally, forever. But in recent years, the human love for bacon--our addiction to bacon (which can arguably be traced to its six types of umami, chain-lards, and un-copyable flavor, according to Arun Gupta), has gotten out of hand. Bacon has become a meme, a trope, a snag in the collective unconscious making it the answer to all questions, the solution to all problems. The addiction has become as much psychological as it is physical, driving us--in the classic drug-abuser's pattern of chasing that first, sweetest high--to greater and more esoteric exertions in the name of bacon enjoyment until the phrase "Everything's Better With Bacon!" becomes like a challenge: Oh, yeah? Watch what I can do . . .
Look at the timeline above, its movement from the necessary, sane, and rational to the ludicrous and wrong. We have bacon ice cream, bacon cookies, bacon donuts, bacon lollipops, bacon alarm clocks, chicken-fried bacon, deep-fried bacon-wrapped french fries, bacon dipped in chocolate and bacon-wrapped-bacon stuffed with bacon and topped with bacon bits. It's too much.
Bacon has not merely jumped the shark. Bacon has taken all the sharks, stuffed them with cupcakes, ice cream, sausage, lipstick, alarm clocks, and mayonnaise, wrapped them in bacon, deep-fried them, then jumped that. Using a ramp made of bacon.
As of today, bacon's 15 minutes of fame has lasted about 2000 years. But the difference between the first 1990 of them and now is that the Romans (except for maybe Caligula) weren't making petaso bikinis and snapping pictures of them to share on Facebook. Bacon is and always has been one of the most delicious foods on earth. It is proof that the food gods love us and want us to be happy. But what we are doing today is tantamount to bacon abuse, and it has to stop. I don't want bacon-flavored chapstick. I don't need a bacon martini. What I love is three or four or six strips of thick-cut, smoked bacon, gently cooked in a hot pan and presented plainly on my plate--a taste of civilization, a connection to thousands of years of edible history, breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack all in one.
Bacon is good. Bacon is great. Bacon is what makes us us. So what we need is to tone down the crazy, dial back the obsession, cool down the marketing machine once and for all, and take a step back from the weird brink at which we have found ourselves.
We need to let bacon be bacon once again.