Taking a closer look at the bacon trend

May 3, 2012

On this week's show, we’ll hear from a pioneer in the field of sociobiology, and take a closer look at an emerging food trend.

Bacon is everywhere these days. You can find it in your salad and your cupcakes, on Band Aids and t-shirts, even shaped into roses and hats. And it doesn’t appear to be going away soon. 

Comedian Jim Gaffigan calls bacon “the most beautiful thing on earth.” In his 2009 standup routine, Gaffigan likens it to fairy dust and leprechaun gold and says the only bad thing about bacon is it makes you thirsty — for more bacon. 

And boy, are we thirsty. Bacon, it seems, is everywhere. Besides the usual bacon products, you can also purchase bacon-flavored lip balm, bacon-scented cat litter and, for the truly devoted, a bacon coffin. What once was a food trend has morphed into a cultural phenomenon. And it may be here to stay.

Bob North, president of three pork-producing units in the Lebanon and Eldon areas, has worked in the pork industry for over 20 years. He says the bacon trend has been on the rise for a long time. 

"Bacon, up to about the last 15 years, wasn’t as important a cut. It wasn’t as expensive a cut. It wasn’t as one that was used quite as much. But now, the last 10-15 years, bacon went from just being a breakfast product to it’s served three meals a day on something, somewhere in the world.”

Food trends like bacon don’t just start — or end — overnight. Jeff Guinn, an instructor in the hospitality management program at Mizzou, says there are two types of culinary movements: fads and trends. Culinary fads start quick and fizzle out just as fast. Food trends, however, have staying power, possibly due to innovation, versatility or even nostalgia. Bacon fits this description.

“Bacon is just one of those [foods] that almost every non-vegetarian or anyone that eats pork products can kind of relate to. It’s got that nostalgia-type flavor to it. You smell bacon, and you taste bacon, and it can trigger your childhood memories of eating breakfast with your family,” said Guinn.

Guinn says culinary trends tend to move from fine-dining to casual restaurants, and many fast-food restaurants have already jumped on the bacon bandwagon.

In 2011, Denny’s promoted “Baconalia! A celebration of all things bacon.” And then there was Wendy’s Baconator, back in 2007. Now, fast-food restaurants are getting even more creative. Burger King debuted a bacon sundae earlier this month at select Nashville franchises, and Jack-in-the-Box introduced a limited-time bacon milkshake in February. 

Sally Stegemann, a nutritionist at the Women’s Wellness Center in Columbia, says that culinary trends aren’t necessarily about health but about taste. Bacon, while not a health food, can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

“Well, you know, there’s always going to be different food trends, different culinary trends," said Stegemann. " With the cupcake trend, well, are cupcakes necessarily healthy? Not really. I guess you can make them more healthy, depending on what you put in them.”

Those wanting to try a unique bacon dessert can stop by Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream in Columbia. They occasionally offer maple bacon ice cream with bacon that is cooked, candied and chopped by Broadway Brewery. Marian Nguyen has been working at Sparky’s for two years and says it was created a few years ago by a former manager and serious bacon-lover. 

“A lot of people like the idea of bacon and ice cream. It’s like the ultimate guilty pleasure. But a lot of people get turned off by it, too, because it’s meat and dairy, if you reduce it to that. But it’s not bad. It’s really not bad.”

But for every delicious bacon product, there’s always something stranger and, to some, not so delicious product out there. Guinn has tried a few bacon desserts, such as a bacon chocolate cake and a maple-bacon glazed long john. He draws the line, however, at bacon-flavored vodka. 

As for Bob North, he eats bacon on a daily basis but hasn’t tried many of the stranger bacon dishes. Bacon, as a culinary trend or novelty item, is still a food product. And it’s one trend he thinks will be around for a long time to come.