It's not bacon's fault. Just as you can't blame The Big Lebowski for its Dude-quoting, White Russian–drinking devotees, so you can't hold a humble slice of pork belly responsible for the fatuous cult that's sprung up around it.
Not too long ago bacon was just bacon, the Great American Breakfast Meata fatty, crispy, salty/smoky/spicy piece of perfection. It was a culinary simpleton, and that was the appeal.
Then it started going all Hollywood, or rather Michelin, on us, as chefs like Thomas Keller and Tom Colicchio discovered the virtues of cooking with bacon. Soon it was catapulted onto plates in fine restaurants around the country. "There is no ingredient quite like bacon," says pork fiend chef David Chang of New York's wildly successful Momofuku restaurants. And of course there's no such thing as basic bacon anymoreyou can scarcely find the Boar's Head or Oscar Mayer amid all the thick-cut and locally produced, small-batch varieties.
To be sure, there are damn good reasons for bacon's ascendancyin particular a high-, middle-, and lowbrow appeal rivaled only by those of pizza and the hamburger. But that's not enough to explain the recent spike in popularitybacon sales have gone up 25 percent nationwide in the last three years, according to Mark Pastore, vice president of New York's Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meats (which supplies restaurants such as Balthazar, The Spotted Pig, and Shake Shack) and there's no accounting for the excesses of the current bacon mania.
Suddenly, it seems, a serving of bacon delivers a deeper meaning. It's not the flavor so much as the fact that it gives you flavor. Eating it says, "There's more to me than my reusable Whole Foods bagI'm not pretentious, I'm still fun-loving." "Bacon isn't just another meat treatit's an archetype and an icon, a totem and a fetish object," says Josh Ozersky, ardent carnivore and author of Meat Me in Manhattan and The Hamburger. "It's all things meat, concentrated down to one strip of cured pork, and that strip functions as a middle finger to extend towards all the health cranks, stroller moms, and progressive puritans who try to prevent men from doing what they want most. Bacon is a Thai brothel on an egg plate."
Right, and if looking to validate your manhood via sex tourism seems sad, then what about doing it via skillet? The unfortunate reality is that this isn't where the baconian exuberance ends. It extends to an almost limitless supply of curiosities, like vodka, cupcakes, mints, and lip balm. There are other ways to broadcast your affection for the victual too: Tiaras and bras made of the meat. Tattoos. Pendants. Bandages. Mr. Bacon action figures (packaged with archnemesis Tofu). And it goes on. Call it the Bacon Explosionto borrow the name of the popular 5,000-calorie barbecued-bacon-brick recipe that came about thanks to a dare sent out on Twitter and became an Internet phenomenon last winter. Good old baconso Web 2.0.