Six Degrees of the Bacon Rebellion

As the early bird of the family, my youngest son rarely misses the chance to say a lengthy goodbye to my husband as he leaves for work every morning. This leads, sometimes, to some very funny little-kid send-offs (generally worthy of Christmas letters, status updates, and, yes, blog entries). A while ago, J. said to his dad, “Have a great day! Climb ladders; bring bacon.” That he got from The Incredibles. Then he added, “Really, Daddy. Bring bacon. It’s delicious!”

We laughed because of his obvious misunderstanding of the expression, but I recently learned that he wasn’t really that far off. It turns out that “bringing home the bacon” may actually have nothing to do with breadwinning, but may instead derive from a tradition in a 12th century English town in which the church promised to award a side of bacon to any married man who could swear before God that he hadn’t quarreled with his wife for a full calendar year.

But it’s not my young son’s insightful understanding of this common phrase that really surprises me. He is, after all, only repeating what he hears. But this is the same kid who recently watched the animated movie version of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and upon hearing the farmer at the end, tell a crowd at the fair that his award winning pig Wilbur will live a long life, free from the butcher’s knife, asked, “But if they don’t kill the pig, then how are all the people going to get bacon?”

The funny thing is the kid doesn’t eat bacon, or really any meat that isn’t processed into a hotdog. Somehow, despite his disdain for all things meaty, an unwavering bacon obsession is leaking into his little brain.

Etymologically speaking, the word “bacon” refers to the back of an animal, though until the 17th century, it wasn’t considered a specific cut of meat, but rather just as a term for any cut of pork. Today, bacon in the U.S. mostly comes from pork bellies and more than 2 billion pounds of it is produced annually. In some form, bacon shows up on history’s radar as early 1500 BC and since that time has been a cheap and (if properly cured) easily stored meat for the masses in nearly every age. But no age has loved it quite as much as our own.

Sometime in, let’s say, the last 20 years or so, bacon has taken on a new (and totally bizarre) life. No longer do we confine ourselves to eating bacon with our eggs at breakfast time, but we can now also purchase a variety of bacon related and/or bacon flavored products, including (though certainly not limited to):

Bacon soap, bacon-scented hand sanitizer, bacon flavored popcorn, gummy bacon, bacon lip balm, bacon toothpaste, bacon mints, bacon-scented air freshener, bacon strip adhesive bandages, bacon gumballs, bacon lollipops, bacon soda (which is even more revolting than it sounds), bacon dental floss, and bacon jelly beans (though to be fair, the Bertie Bott’s Corporation has been making those for over a century).

Presumably people are actually buying these products; which, begs the question: WHY?

So here’s my theory. Sometime in the 1980’s the US began a steady slide into the health food craze. No longer was tofu a fringe food, the consumption of which attracted immediate ridicule. Suddenly we became faced with a slew of health gurus touting the advantages whole, natural, and nutritious foods, and somehow we started to listen. While publicly many of us (practical historians included) say the healthier food of today is so much more flavorful (the polite way of saying, “this tastes an awful lot like grass”), what we really mean is: “We’re hungry for bacon!”

This brings us to the Bacon Rebellion (not to be confused with the 1676 uprising led by Nathaniel Bacon against Virginia Governor William Berkeley and his policies regarding Native Americans, which I’m told is also of some historical importance). Bacon is the perfect poster food for the uprising against healthfulness, representative of everything doctors and dieticians tell us to avoid: salty, fatty, and delicious. And now thanks to good old fashioned American ingenuity and pure stubbornness, we’re even dipping it in chocolate!

That’s right. Chocolate-coated bacon is sweeping the nation thanks to Marini’s Candy in Santa Cruz, California, owned by brothers, Nick and Gino Marini who claim to be the first to present the combination to the public. For their efforts, the Marini Brothers were featured on an episode of History Channel’s Modern Marvels, a show dedicated to brilliant advances in technology (obviously this is a good programming fit).

So go ahead, all you health nuts out there. You’re doing good work, and we all appreciate it. Some of us may even live longer because of your efforts. Just don’t count bacon out because it has proven (with a fury unchallenged in the culinary world) that it remains the food the people still want to bring home.

I for one would not wish to quarrel with anyone who brings it to me covered in chocolate.

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