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The Eaten Path: BACON! Student says he’d read the paper if there was a story about bacon. Here you go

by Paul J. Henderson – Chilliwack Times
posted May 27, 2015 at 4:00 PM

 

Young Finn Brandsma wants to see more bacon in the newspaper.

And I’m here to oblige the East Chilliwack elementary student from teacher Darlene Crocker’s Grade 3/4 class.

You got it Finn. You persuaded us to tackle the subject put forth in your letter to the editor.

“I want an article about bacon and where it comes from,” Finn wrote in a letter to the Times.

“Why do people like it so much? Is bacon healthy? How do they get bacon?”

Good to see that kids are reading the paper these days.

“If you put bacon in the newspaper I will read it every day.”

OK Finn, got it. Message transmitted.

The young man’s letter was part of Ms. Crocker’s persuasive writing lesson where each student wrote to the mayor, their parents, the principal or a newspaper.

Finn persuaded me on the spot to try to answer his three main questions, as I’ll paraphrase them: Where does bacon come from? Why do people like it so much? Is bacon healthy?

To research, I made a beeline for the person I knew would have at least some of the answers: Bonnie Windsor, assistant plant manager at iconic local pork producer Johnston’s who has been making bacon (among other things) in Chilliwack since 1937.

How much bacon you say? Just last year Johnston’s produced and sold more than 300,000 pounds of bacon.

 

Where does bacon come from?

“It comes from the belly,” Windsor explains. The flat piece of meat known as pork belly—not commonly served that way—on the underside of the animal next to the spare ribs is where bacon comes from.

And while that answer is simple, some clarification is in order: When we talk bacon here we are talking about regular, American bacon commonly found at grocery stores. Canadian bacon or back bacon is made from pork loin, and in Britain and elsewhere in the world bacon is not made from the belly but rather side and back cuts. The bacon we are used to is known as “streaky” bacon in England, but I digress.

That piece of belly fat is just the start: The butchers at Johnston’s cure the pork by using long syringes to injecting a liquid substance into the meat. The exact ingredients here are a bit of a secret, and include some hard-to-pronounce commercial products, but this much I’m told is true: brown sugar is in there.

Then the meat is smoked and the end product is the bacon that Finn and his classmates love.

 

Why do people like it so much?

Well, Finn, to quote John Travolta’s character in the movie Pulp Fiction: “Bacon tastes good.”

Scientifically, it’s more complex. There is the Maillard reaction (or caramelization or browning) whereby high heat does something magical to certain foods, particularly meats but this also works with, for example, onions or apples. Then there is umami, the fifth element of human taste beyond the commonly known sweet, bitter, salty and sour. This is what we taste when we add parmesan cheese to rich tomato sauce or why miso soup is so satisfying and, Finn, it’s why you also probably like ketchup. And bacon. The problem here is that umami basically means “freaking delicious” so to use it to answer this question is circular logic.

But the real reason we crave and love bacon is simple biology: Bacon is the beautifully simple combination of sweet, salty and fat, which may not be the healthiest thing for us (see answer three below) but was good for evolution. For millions of years as homo sapiens evolved, we learned to crave sweet as a critical form of energy. We crave salt as something lost in sweat but critical to maintain cellular fluid. And fat, well fat, is a dense source of energy.

So apparently bacon is the end product of evolution.

And if you don’t believe in evolution then God made bacon. And it is good.

 

Is bacon healthy?

Finn, you ask too many questions.

“No comment,” jokes Windsor when I bring up this sensitive subject.

All things are healthy, or at least OK, in small amounts, right?

Well, maybe not. Experts suggest that bacon and all processed meats can raise cholesterol levels leading to heart disease and stroke. Processed meats also increase risk of diabetes.

Then there is the bad news: smoking, curing or salting meat form cancer-causing substances, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Studies also show that adding bacon to dishes increase deliciousness by, like, a lot. So there’s that.

There is a bit of a baconmania going on in North America these days. There are bacon beers, bacon ice cream, maple bacon doughnuts and bacon-wrapped . . . everything. Just last weekend in Victoria was the inaugural Baconalooza event.

Hopefully Finn’s questions have been answered, he gets an A on his writing assignment, and a whole generation of kids in East Chilliwack will continue to read the paper because “bacon was in it!”

Bacon, it tastes good. But please use responsibly.

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