I Heart Bacon

One addict’s journey from strict vegetarian to unapologetic pork junkie.
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Bacon is distinguished in my life as the undoing of a long-reigning vegetarian diet. Though I was raised in a meat-centric family, I parted ways with Sunday roasts and barbecues after an incident involving the death of a pet chicken. By “pet” I mean that the chicken seemed particularly glad to see me on the infrequent occasions we visited our family farm. By “death” I mean it was killed, dressed, and roasted for dinner faster than you can say garlic and lemon. My own aunt Sidney was the murderous cook, my hayseed cousins her ravenous acolytes. Apparently they had never heard of shrink-wrapped meat.

A BLT sandwich was my gateway back to the carnivorous life. It began innocently enough, with the smell of bacon frying. Seduced by the sweet, salty essence of smoke and fat, I was robbed of any capacity to make a rational decision. Layered with a thick slice of ripe garden tomato, crisp lettuce, and mayo on sourdough bread, I felt a rush of warmth, and an indeterminate longing for something I was missing.

It worked on me slowly. One occasional slice for breakfast (always at a diner, never at home) led to lunches of spinach salad with crumbled bacon and egg, then bacon burgers. I graduated to more expensive preparations and cuts: bacon wrapped scallops; pork tenderloin and crown roast; stuffed fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto. To the outside world, I still referred to myself as a vegetarian, but I was harboring a secret, living a lie.

I began hanging around butcher shops and running with a crowd that dined hard and hearty. We’d score invitations to braisefest dinner parties, or to a backyard grill-out where—with longings in our belly—we’d hover over the scent of smoked pork ribs being finished off on the grill with a bit of sauce. Once, at a pig roast, I caught a reflection of the entire lot of us standing in the middle of the yard silently, feverishly gnawing on the bronzed crispy skin and sliding tender jowl meat into our mouths with fingers. It was then that I realized we were in the midst of a nationwide pork pandemic, and I had become a pork junkie.

Pork has become plentiful and cheap, ubiquitous even. Restaurant chefs have become pork pushers, peddling the cheap cuts of pork belly, shoulder, and shank, cutting it with a little wine and a few herbs and tripling the price. Bacon has garnered its own cult, and deservedly so. From bloggers to gadgets and accessories (I’m particularly fond of the bacon bandages at www.archiemcphee.com), bacon has gone hog wild.

Originally published in the May 2009 issue.

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