This is unfortunate, but you’ve become one of the most hackneyed trends in America. There’s a tiresome, ubiquitous idea solidified in the consciousness: When you’re hanging around, everything gets better. It’s hurting your potential. Bacon, as a food group, suffers from heady overproduction. Your aromas have been printed into candles. Your flavors have been laced into sodas. Your image has been printed onto bandages that we put over our cuts and scrapes.
It doesn’t mean that your company is not enjoyed; we just need to see you a little bit less. Pork production—which includes you, dearest Bacon—is steadily increasing.
America loves you—to the tune of 24,941 million pounds of slaughtered pork in 2016. That number is projected to rise steadily by 1,029 (again, million pounds) by 2018. The value of U.S. pork exports, mostly shipping to Japan and Mexico, has more than doubled since 2006. In a recent Washington Post study on the undying love of pork, one Iowa pig farm is reported to produce a new litter of piglets every 25 minutes.
But pork’s mass production costs the Earth massive reserves of water, dilutes the best qualities of your flavors, and can encourage the questionable moral treatment of your source animal.
Pork’s Water Footprint
Bacon, it’s true that you are delicious. Bacon, sizzling on a pan until crispy and undulating, meeting a generous layer of mayonnaise and fresh, salted tomato, is one of the great gifts from the world. That’s a given.
Still, our insatiable obsession with you is hurting both the planet and bacon itself.
A 2014 study on pork’s water footprint details that it takes 8.2 gallons of water per each 4-ounce serving of boneless pork. When demand increases for any meat or pork product, it leaches the Earth’s water resources more than imagined. “Feed accounts for 83 to 93 percent of the pork chain water footprint, depending on the grain source,” according to a report from the National Pork Board.
The picture paints itself when coupled with America’s love of the pig.
“Americans have developed a new taste for pork, particularly bacon, as well. According to the market research firm Euromonitor, sales of pork are up 20 percent in the United States since 2011,” wrote Caitlin Dewey in the Washington Post.
What does all of this mean? It means our love of you, Bacon, costs our planet dearly. It means that the overproduction of bacon hurts bacon. The same Washington Post piece details some disturbing practices in piglet production. In recent years, a number of never-eat-pork-again horror stories have circulated surrounding pig farming for major food corporations. At some farms, visitors are given headphones to mute the squeals from the penned pigs.
Although bacon is part of the fabric of our food culture, these numbers point to changes Americans can make.
A Better Bacon
Picture the bacon options at your average grocery store. You’re seeing Oscar Mayer, right? You’re imagining that plastic window that showcases the streaky slabs of bacon? Here’s the point: Maybe bacon shouldn’t be for everyday consumption. Next time you’re staring into the bacon aisle, grab a package and think of what went into those fatty strips.
Here are a few alternatives.
Find a farm near you, and buy directly from them. You may pay a few bucks more, but you’ll know where it’s coming from. You may even get a bacon tour out of it.
Ask the chef at your favorite restaurant where they get their bacon. Most chefs are excited to talk about their farming sources, and every single vote of confidence in local farmers helps boost the demand of humanely treated, free-range pigs. Livestock farms are like college classrooms: the fewer people in the seats, the more attention the students get.
When all else fails, buy Big Bacon’s “natural” brands. Most grocery stores have a separate set-up, sometimes just to the side of the old-fashioned stuff, displaying major brands (such as Hormel and Oscar Mayer) offering uncured, no-preservatives, and no-hormones meat.
One of life’s great bacon truths is this: There is nothing like the joy of having real, crispy, smoky pork bacon after a long stretch of not eating it. When bacon is a reward, like it used to be, isn’t that when it’s at is best?
Let’s remove the “everyday” from bacon. We’re literally eating more than we ever have, and it’s looking like we will in 2018, too. We’ll never quit you, Bacon, but there are so many new and better ways to grow together.