Monday, July 17, 2017

Bacon is hot: Meet the guys who helped save bacon's bacon



     Sometimes pulling the thread on a single question can lead to an unexpected story. Here, I was trying to find out when precooked bacon came into being, and happened upon its largely unknown genesis. If after reading this, you just have to visit a pig slaughterhouse, one of Chicago's last, you can do so here.

     My mother never cooked a pork chop. Never once did a holiday ham grace the table of our modest suburban home. For a simple reason: we're Jewish, and such things are forbidden.
     But bacon was another matter. We had bacon all the time. With eggs of course, but also piled high on BLTs, the wheat toast smeared with mayonnaise. She served hot dogs wrapped in bacon.
     Faith is fine, but bacon is "the most beautiful thing on earth," as comedian Jim Gaffigan put it during a routine on the beloved cured meat. "Bacon's the best!"
     Isn't it though? The public agrees. Bacon sales have surged over the past decade. Bacon prices are up 20 percent this year, with supplies at their lowest in 60 years, stripped by voracious consumer demand for everything from bacon donuts to bacon-infused vodka.
     Amazingly, not long ago bacon was in decline. I was examining historical data and found myself reading the bacon entry in The Encyclopedia of Meat Sciences. It noted that in the late 1970s bacon was wilting; a study found that female heads of households were consuming far less bacon, due to cost, the bother of preparation and the trend toward quick, simple breakfasts.
     "As late as 1989," the encyclopedia noted, it was believed "bacon consumption is evidently in a long-term eroding trend."
     What happened? One problem with bacon was that you had to cook it, a messy process. It spattered and popped in the pan. You had to scrub your stovetop or microwave every time you cooked bacon.

To continue reading, click here.

24 comments:

  1. I WAS THE FOOD PURCHASING AGENT FOR A LARGE MICHIGAN AVENUE HOTEL BACK IN THE LATE 80'S AND EARLY 90'S WHEN I FIRST ENCOUNTERED PRE-COOKED BACON. I REMEMBER BEING INITIALLY SHOCKED AT THE EXPENSE UNTIL RECEIVING A CORPORATE MEMO DETAILING THE COST BENEFIT ALONG WITH THE SAFETY AND HANDLING ISSUES.
    SORRY, AGAIN I FIND MYSELF BABBLING ON ABOUT A MEMORY........

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    1. FIRST ENCOUNTERED PRE-COOKED BACON IN THE 90'S AS POPULAR AMONG THE HOMELESS STOP NO PREPERATION NEEDED READY TO EAT AND FOR THE MONEY MORE NUTRITIOUS THAN BEEF JERKY STOP

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  2. Interesting story. I rarely made bacon until I discovered "baked bacon" - way better than frying. You just need to watch it at the end to get your preferred doneness.

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    1. Bake a whole pound or more and freeze portions. Make your own pre-cooked bacon. Save the rendered fat for other cooking. Still messy but you only have to do it occasionally.

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  3. Good column but no thanks on the bacon donuts.

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  4. From an early age on to open-heart surgery days, I loved bacon, the crispier the better, which is not to say I didn't like the fat as well. I saved the grease religiously and used it for frying everything, including bread soaked in the grease and toasted to a splendid crunchy brown, almost black surface. Now I have my yearly BLT about the time I drink my yearly 2 cans of beer.

    By the way, my initial reaction to precooked bacon, which I have noticed in the grocery stores, is that it's an abomination and a sign of the impending doom of American civilization. But I'll guess I'll try it some time or another.

    john

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    1. I had heart surgery too but I pretty much gave up bacon before that. Inefficient gall bladder.

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  5. Neil, I love that in your family bacon was not the same as pork. Like you, I never saw a pork chop cooked in my home. But bacon? Of course. And, in fact, spare ribs when we went to a Chinese restaurant. I don't think I even knew these items had pork in them when I was a kid.

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    1. There's a passage in "Portnoy's Complaint" where the narrator notes that his family, while almost always keeping kosher, would occasionally indulge in pork in a Chinese restaurant: "it comes to us so chopped and shredded, and is then set afloat on our plates in such oceans of soy sauce, as to bear no resemblance at all to a pork chop, or a hambone, or, most disgusting of all, a sausage (ucchh!)"

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  6. I think all but the most narrow-minded, flinty-hearted, scrupulous religionists make some accommodation of their beliefs with their druthers.

    What's a few thousand years of Purgatory after all?

    john

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    1. Purgatory is a strictly Roman Catholic club. Neil can sneak a little bacon without fear of that particular condemnation.

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    2. I'm sure that Neil, a devout Danteist, is more knowledgable about Purgatorio than I. The allusion was mainly for him. My fellow Catholics are all going to hell I'm afraid.

      john

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    3. As so much with religion, it's a matter of interpretation. Dante places Jews in heaven, God bless him. It's been a while since I read "Purgatorio," but I don't believe those trekking up Purgatory's mountain are there for minor lapses in practice.

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    4. To me, any religion, any set of beliefs, is never as interesting as the culture that it accompanies. Religion fuels culture even as culture fuels religion. If we can accept another's religion we can find interest in their culture. When we accept another's culture the world is a better place. Acceptance is the key. Tolerance isn't enough.
      Maybe that's a little too heavy. Weren't we talking about bacon or something?

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  7. Mmmmm... bacon!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2o84egjMso

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYns5vR3QuQ

    "I was examining historical data and found myself reading the bacon entry in The Encyclopedia of Meat Sciences." As we are all wont to do, from time to time...

    At our house in the '60s, we had a special can designed for leftover bacon grease. Metal, with a perforated metal lid to let the grease drip through to be kept, while straining the tiny shards of bacon out. Never lost my taste for bacon, but we have it very rarely these days and certainly don't have a can like that.

    Your mother offers a fascinating theological distinction between pork chops, ham and bacon. "People like bacon." Indeed. I hate to be churlish, but people like pork chops and ham, too! ; )

    Very witty telegram @ 6:59, Bernie.

    And I gotta say, I've never been much for the animal-rights crusade, given everything else that's going on in the world, but those photos of the smiling, perky-eared, meat-case pigs from yesterday's post are rather disconcerting.

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    1. Jakash, you're back! Welcome. How did you get on without a Google/WordPress/LiveJournal account?

      SandyK

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    2. WELCOME BACK JAKASH ITS A FESTIVUS MIRACLE STOP BOUGHT WESTERN UNION TELETYPE ON EBAY STOP COSTS ONLY TWO CENTS PER WORD TO USE AND PROOF AGAINST RUSSIAN HACKERS STOP

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    3. Thanks, Sandy and Bernie.

      Uh, just between you and me, Sandy, the same way I used to.

      Festivus in July!

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    4. I will try to post something Jakash; if this comment appears, then all is well in the EGD world.

      SandyK

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    5. Jakash:

      I was more concerned that they are pig's heads from Italy. But I toured Park before I had an iPhone, and so took no pictures. And indeed, good to have you back.

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    6. Holy cow!! It took a post about the best part of the divine swine to bring you back, it really is a fabulous meat! Great to have you back, Jakash.

      Great posts on pork the last two days. Very fascinating Mr. Steinberg.

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  8. I don't hate bacon. I will have a BLT once in a while. But I don't get the love for it. We did not keep kosher in our home. I had ham sandwiched for lunch, ate ribs, lobster. How ever my mother never made any pork recipes. We did have bacon at home. My wife will not eat any bacon or pork products. She will eat lobster and being at a bit of loss what we can eat, I don't think we are supposed to eat shrimp, which we do at least once a month.

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  9. Same here: bacon-can take it or leave it

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