With reports of an unavoidable bacon and pork shortage, there has been a lot of conversation online about a "bacon-less" life. People are talking about hoarding bacon for the upcoming year (or at least joking about it), and bemoaning the tragedy of it all.
I think there are some important lessons here for the average American consumer.
1. We like bacon because we like fat
I've seen very few people complaining about a pork chop-less life, and no one is screaming about how they have to order 50 pounds of lean pork steak. When we hear the words "pork shortage," we translate it into our favorite pork item: bacon. We love it for all of its flavor and fat. That we are drawn to fat is an undeniable fact, whether you think fat is bad for you or good for you (such as this article sharing a pro-saturated fat viewpoint). Our desire to eat fatty foods, or to stockpile them seems like a throwback to leaner times (no pun intended!) when fat — in all of its traditional forms of lard, olive oil, tallow, bear fat, sesame oil and others — was carefully preserved and stockpiled. This sudden desire to stockpile bacon isn't simply born out of a desire to stockpile a favorite food (though I have no doubt that is true as well), but I think it also reaches back into our history when stockpiling important food items was essential for survival.
2. We aren't used to famines and food shortages
We are so unused to specific food shortages that there is something almost novel to us about a "bacon shortage." There is no denying that some Americans are underfed, and children often go hungry in certain demographics. Yet, when viewed as a whole, our society is blessed not to have to worry about whether or not we can put food on the table. And we certainly don't expect stores to stop carrying specific food items, whether it is bread or bacon. We go to our brightly lit grocery store and pick up whatever we want, whenever we want, with no fear of the supply drying up. We can joke about bacon and a "baconpocalypse" because real need and hunger are far from many of our minds.
If you're like me, you may struggle sometimes to buy a well-rounded diet on a budget, but my fear is not that my children will starve, but if they will have a good diet for the best health. I am thankful that I have not faced a real fear of starvation. That is not something to be taken for granted.
3. We aren't connected to our food's roots
Along those same lines, this upcoming "bacon" shortage has made me once again realize how disconnected we are from our food. Lack of rain during the growing season doesn't immediately make us worry about crops; we are too busy sunbathing or trying to keep normal life going during the heat. Our world doesn't touch that of the farmer unless we very purposely try to make that happen via farmers markets, CSA groups and direct buying from farmers. Because our industrialized world has given us some safety from droughts, we aren't used to worrying about the weather and crops, and it can be hard for us to realize the full implications of droughts and heat records. Pictures of dying corn fields may not move us, nor screenshots of parched and cracked ground, but bacon? An upcoming lack of bacon has hit a tender spot, finally, for some of us.
To conclude this little muse about bacon, I echo Robin’s advice to try to buy bacon directly from local farmers — supporting their hard work of raising humanely, better fed pigs. I am sure that we will survive a year or two without quite as much bacon on our plates. But I also think that this small “crisis," if you will, gives us opportunity to give thought to not only our local economy, our farmers, and how they are affected by drought and other environmental factors, but also to the worldwide problem of underfed people. We may crave bacon, while they crave simply to be fed.
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