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Wrapped Up in Bacon


Back in 2000, the popular HBO series "Sex and the City" launched a cupcake craze with the main character's devotion to New York's Magnolia Bakery. Like a contagious sugar rush, shops dedicated to the single-serving sweets started to dot U.S. cities like liberally applied sprinkles. The virtues of cupcakes — comforting thoughts of mom and home, their egalitarian nature — were trumpeted from coast to coast. That wave had yet to truly dissipate when the next one took hold, self-serve frozen yogurt. And so it goes on and on, the cyclical pattern that makes a particular food the sudden darling of the dining world.


Now it is bacon that has that satisfying sizzle, and bloggers, foodies, restaurants and chefs across the country, including in San Diego, cannot get enough of the fatty, crispy not-just-for-breakfast-anymore treat.

The rise of bacon has become a cultural phenomenon. Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to the topic of recent "bacon mania." Now, there are special camps and retreats for bacon lovers where they can get together to discuss all things sliced from the sides, belly or back of a pig. Need the perfect push-up? Try the bacon bra.

"It's sinfully delicious, and it's really fun when you start wrapping stuff in bacon," said Corey James, "Chief Baconographer" at bacon news website Bacon Today, which launched in June 2008 and reports more than 100,000 unique visitors per month.

"We went to the bacon camp in San Francisco and must have had 40 bacon items in three hours. Even for us that was tough."

Cookbook authors and food columnists have been talking about the bacon resurgence and its hot-food status for years. However, in their rush to snatch their own strip of the bacon craze, reporters and cookbook authors have been spreading a specious statistic in order to bolster their claims of a bacon rebirth.

Let's try to smoke out its origins, shall we?

James Villas, in the preface of his 2007 "Bacon Cookbook," touched on just how big bacon had become by mentioning the oft-repeated statistic: "Just the 40 percent increase in bacon consumption in the United States over the past five years might have justified my writing this book." Perhaps caught up in the mania himself, or just blinded by bacon grease, Villas will want to think of some other justifications, because that number is more bogus than bacon-flavored tofu.

There is "no way" the 40 percent figure is true, according to Ceci Snyder, assistant vice president of consumer marketing at the National Pork Board.

"We are aware of the increased attention bacon is getting and it's very exciting, but we have yet to see an effect on the real numbers. Bacon consumption has been steady for the last four years," Snyder said on the phone from Iowa.

As the bacon craze has spread, so has the fallacious figure. With viral Internet hits like the artery-nuking bacon explosion — a 5,000-calorie speed bump of sausage wrapped in woven bacon strips — and new products like Baconnaise, bacon vodka and bacon salt, newspapers picked up on the trend and wrote about how the country was ignoring health concerns and re-embracing bacon in old and new ways.

The earliest reference to the dubious digit predates the "Bacon Cookbook" and comes from the The Dallas Morning News, which wrote: "During the past five years, in fact, there has been a 40 percent increase in bacon consumption in the United States," in its Dec. 13, 2006, article "We are living in the Golden Age of Bacon." There is no specific source for the statistic, but the book "Seduced by Bacon" by Joanna Pruess is referenced throughout the article.

The most recent dissemination of the figure was from the Contra Costa Times, which actually quotes "Seduced by Bacon," published in October 2006, as saying "Bacon consumption is up 40 percent from 2003." Never mind the fact that this story was published on March 21, 2009, and therefore is referring to a completely different time period than The Dallas Morning News reference. Not only does "Seduced by Bacon" not have the 40 percent figure, it actually contains a different statistic that completely contradicts it.

"From 2002-2007, bacon sales are predicted to grow 15 percent," the book's introduction states. That number also has no specific source, but in the acknowledgments, Pruess thanks Snyder from National Pork Board for help with research.

Kathie Jenkins, a restaurant critic for Pioneer Press in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, quotes the same number in a Nov. 11, 2008, article, again with no source, but decides to hedge her bets and be vague about the time period. "Bacon mania is sweeping the country. In recent years, there has been a 40 percent increase in bacon consumption in the United States."

Considering the hard data that is available, the bacon statistic simply cannot be true. A 2001 report from the National Pork Board put the previous five years' growth in bacon consumption at just 5 percent. Also, according to the USDA, annual per capita pork consumption barely budged from 1996 to 2006. So unless bacon magically replicates in the refrigerator like mold on cheese, there is no way Americans are eating 40 percent more bacon each year.

This does not entirely discount the emergence of a U.S. Baconation. Restaurants from San Diego restaurants to New York have bought into the rebirth with new bacon-centric recipes. The Linkery scoops up a house-made "lardo" ice cream with candied bacon. Restaurateur and chef Kelley Jones, who opened Suite & Tender in San Diego's Hotel Se earlier this year, created a maple syrup-glazed bacon appetizer for the menu that became an instant hit.

"It came about as a whimsical approach to typical bacon dishes. Everything is wrapped in bacon, bacon-wrapped shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops. People love those things, but they love it because of the bacon. So I said let's do bacon and not wrap anything in it — it's one of the most popular appetizers."

The founders of Bacon Today added to the mania with the turbaconducken — duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey wrapped in bacon — which was in turn used as a metaphor for the government's stimulus package by a news columnist. On April Fools' Day, a tongue-in-cheek video about squeezable bacon traveled the Web.

Bacon is big for sure; you can bank on that like cash in your bacon wallet. It's just not 40 percent-jump-in-five-years big, that's all. This isn't the first time mistakes have been made with statistics, and it won't be the last, but let this serve as a warning to future bacon buffs: If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably isn't. Tovin Lapan writes for SignOnSanDiego.com


BACON-WRAPPED TATER TOTS

10 slices bacon (your choice), cut in half

20 Ore-Ida Tater Tots

Ketchup

Mayonnaise

Dill pickles (optional)

Yields 2 to 3 servings.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Wrap a half-slice of bacon around each Tater Tot. Place the Tots on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch the bacon grease so it does not drip off the sheet in the oven). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until Tots are golden and crispy and the bacon is cooked. Remove from oven and put Tots on a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess bacon grease.

Mix equal parts of ketchup and mayonnaise to create a "special dipping sauce" for your Tots. As soon as the Tots are cool to the touch (but they taste best warm so make sure they don't cool too much), dip them in the special sauce and enjoy!

— "Bacon: A Love Story" by Heather Lauer, William Morrow.


BACON BROWNIES

1/2 pound margarine

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch of salt

4 strips bacon, cooked until crispy and finely chopped

Yields 1 (9x13-inch) pan of brownies.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Melt margarine in microwave. Stir in cocoa. In a separate large bowl, beat together sugar and eggs. Add flour and salt and mix well. Add cocoa mixture and bacon and stir well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until you can insert a toothpick into center of brownies and it comes out clean. This is best served warm, even better with a scoop of ice cream.

— "Bacon: A Love Story" by Heather Lauer, William Morrow.


BACONTINI

Vermouth

Bacon grease

3 ounces vodka

Dash Tabasco

Dash olive juice

1 slice cooked bacon

Yields 1 cocktail.

Lightly mist martini glass with vermouth and rim edge with bacon grease. In ice-filled cocktail shaker, mix vodka with Tabasco and olive juice. Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Skim excess bacon grease from surface of cocktail. Garnish with bacon slice.

— Adapted from justaddbacon.com.

Tovin Lapan writes about food for www.signonsandiego.com. Contact her at tovin.lapan@uniontrib.com.

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