The confluence of factory farming, the boom in fast food and manipulation of consumer taste created processed foods that can hook us like drugs.
Among my fondest childhood memories is savoring a strip of perfectly cooked bacon that had just been dragged through a puddle of maple syrup. It was an illicit pleasure; varnishing the fatty, salty, smoky bacon with sweet arboreal sap felt taboo. How could such simple ingredients produce such riotous flavors?
That was then. Today, you don’t need to tax yourself applying syrup to bacon — McDonald’s does it for you with the McGriddle. It conveniently takes an egg, American cheese and pork and nestles it between pancakelike biscuits suffused with genuine fake-maple-syrup flavor.
The McGriddle is just one moment in an era of extreme food combinations — a moment in which bacon plays a starring role, from high cuisine to low.
There is: bacon ice cream; bacon-infused vodka; deep-fried bacon; chocolate-dipped bacon; bacon-wrapped hot dogs filled with cheese (which are fried, then battered and fried again); brioche bread pudding smothered in bacon sauce; hard-boiled eggs coated in mayonnaise encased in bacon — called, appropriately, the “heart attack snack”; bacon salt; bacon doughnuts, cupcakes and cookies; bacon mints; “baconnaise,” which Jon Stewart described as “for people who want to get heart disease but [are] too lazy to actually make bacon”; Wendy’s “Baconnator” — six strips of bacon mounded atop a half-pound cheeseburger — which sold 25 million in its first eight weeks; and the outlandish bacon explosion — a barbecued meat brick composed of 2 pounds of bacon wrapped around 2 pounds of sausage.
It’s easy to dismiss this gonzo gastronomy as typical American excess best followed with a Lipitor chaser. Behind the proliferation of bacon offerings, however, is a confluence of government policy, factory farming, the boom in fast food and manipulation of consumer taste that has turned bacon into a weapon of mass destruction.