Recently there has been some criticism of the current "bacon fad." A small group of misguided individuals believes bacon's current popularity is just a trend that is about to pass. My own theory is that this a conspiracy drummed up by some hard-core vegetarians.
Salt has been used as a food preservation tactic for thousands of years. Up until the early 1900s, refrigeration wasn't an option for preventing food spoilage, and salt curing was important for being able to store food for more than a few days at a time. In a nutshell, a salt cure removes moisture from meat that causes bacteria and spoilage. That it could make pork belly even tastier was just an added bonus!
Pre-1900s bacon was much saltier than the version we are familiar with today because it took more salt to cure the bacon to the point that it could sit on a shelf for months at a time. Now that most of us own refrigerators and freezers, bacon producers don't need to use as much salt to preserve the meat. But there are still some country-style curers who are using more traditional levels of salt in their cure — mainly to cater to older generations who are accustomed to saltier bacon.
What's also interesting to note is that the bacon industry didn't really start to take off until around the time of World War I. Prior to that, many people — particularly in rural areas — still raised their own animals and cured their own meat. As newer generations moved into the suburbs and cities, a need arose for producers who could supply meat to the larger population, which is how we ended up with today's diverse bacon industry of large national producers who sell their bacon in supermarkets, regional producers who sell their bacon via the internet and mail order, and small butchers who sell their meat locally.
I was rummaging through some old family photos a few months ago and came across an early 1900s photo from my great grandparents' property in Central Idaho. It was a snapshot of my cousin Virgil standing next to seven freshly slaughtered hogs hanging upside down from a pole — and all of the hogs' innards are visibly displayed on the platform below. With some further investigation I learned that my own great grandparents raised hogs for bacon and other pork products — they used some of the meat themselves and some of it went to other people in the community. That connection to my ancestors was significant because suddenly my own relationship with bacon made a lot more sense!
So I'm always perplexed by the notion of bacon as a "fad" because humans have been consuming cured pork belly for so long that it was even popular in Ancient Greece (there were clearly no bacon blogs back then, but maybe someone gave a speech about bacon at the Acropolis?). Perhaps bacon bracelets are a fad, but bacon — The Best Meat Ever — has been around for ages and it's here to stay.
÷ ÷ ÷
Heather Lauer is a lifelong bacon enthusiast and the creator of the popular website BaconUnwrapped.com. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and Fairfield, Idaho.
Books mentioned in this post
Heather Lauer is the author of Bacon: A Love Story: A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat