What we talk about when we talk about bacon


What keeps you going?

Is it your church? An energetic exercise routine? Art? A glass of wine? Is it food? Is it sugar?

What gets you out of bed in the morning and tamps down the existential terror of, “another day, another day?”

I had a friend who once said, “So-and-so is praying for me. I don’t believe in her god, but I’ll take whatever anyone gives me, and put it my tool belt.”

Here’s what’s in my tool belt: family photos, gales of laughter with a nice sauvignon blanc, a little light exercise, summer wildflowers, my Cairn terrier and a package or two of bacon.

What is it about bacon? Is it the salt? The crisp? The fat?

Add bacon to your breakfast plate and your eggs become a meal, your waffles a sacrament. Put it on your lunchtime sandwich and maybe you won’t commit suicide at your work desk. At night, sprinkle it on a salad, cook it in your beans.

When I was a kid, my folks raised a pig to slaughter. We kids defied their instructions and befriended him, gave him a name.

When they slaughtered him, we cried out from behind the farmhouse windows, our mothers trapping us in the house so we couldn’t run down to the barn yard and intervene. We had meat for the winter, but we wouldn’t eat it. We cried every Sunday night when the ham was brought to the table.

And now, thank God, I buy it in the grocery store. I try different brands and formulations: reduced sodium, sugar free, Black Label. I like it in the box, the way I like the rest of my meat: far away enough from its source that I don’t have to think about its origins.

(Turkey bacon doesn’t taste any good, and will never have a home on my plate. Let’s just make that clear right now.)

But anyway. Bacon had a moment last year. It was so stylish that I saw online photos of a strip of it in a bloody Mary. I saw (and maybe bought for fun) bacon-flavored lip balm. Someone advertised bacon body spray, as if anyone could walk around smelling like that and not be devoured by a pack of hungry brunch eaters.

It was suddenly touted as a thing of desire, like beards and skinny jeans. It had fallen back in style. But haven’t we carnivores always known about this?

When you eat bacon, you throw up your hands at the universe in defiance. It’s a dead animal! It’s full of cholesterol and nitrates! What about your blood pressure? What about your pants size?

Yeah, we sneer. What about it?

The fact is, there are lots of things we love that are no good for us. Bad men, bad food, bad booze, bad ideas. There are even, and don’t tell anyone I told you this, some bad pastors around. There’s bad music on the radio. But we eat all that stuff up, don’t we? We do, because we’re hungry.

It’s pleasure, y’all! It’s fat on the tongue, heavy, like money in your pocket. It’s salty and feral and smoky.

And it, like all those pleasures that accompany us as we take another trip around the sun, just tastes so good.