Not Everything’s Better with Bacon

A lot of things are better with bacon — eggs, pancakes and maple bars being three great examples

By Rob Breeding

I was in one of my favorite hamburger joints the other day and noticed shakes have been added to the menu. I’m not much of a shake guy, preferring beer alongside a good burger, but adult beverages aren’t always an option.

The shakes come with a variety of mix-ins, like cookies and salted caramel. Not the kind of thing I remember from my days when I was a regular shake drinker, but apparently I missed the craft shake movement that emerged in the years since I turned to beer.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the mix ins was bacon. Actually, the new menu encourages you to add bacon to any shake.

I’m old enough to remember when bacon was something that just came with breakfast, next to eggs or pancakes. By the pancakes is where bacon had occasional liaisons with maple syrup, the most likely inspiration for the bacon-maple bar at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon, a culinary creation that went mainstream a little more than a decade ago when food television discovered the joint. I believe this doughnut sits at the root of the “everything’s better with bacon craze.”

A lot of things are better with bacon — eggs, pancakes and maple bars being three great examples — but not everything is improved with the addition of cured and fried pig belly. I’m not on board with this shake thing and skipped it.

The bacon craze is a tawdry example of the decadence of the “unhealthy” modern food porn movement. Food is increasingly presented as a type of performance art rather than sustenance in the bleak world of food television. Recipes are overloaded with more and more “flavor,” unnecessary ingredients piled on like bacon on a shake, giving the food personality cred as being transgressive and edgy. If it just so happens that the food they’re pushing is a gateway drug to diabetes and obesity, well, they can’t be bothered with that.

Adding bacon to a shake may be edgy. More importantly, it’s proof that edgy isn’t always a good thing.

While most of food television is a wasteland, there is still some good stuff to be found. Anthony Bourdain continues to remind us of food’s link to culture, place and history on his current CNN venture. In an episode earlier this season based in Madagascar he reminded viewers how nature preserves, on one hand, can be a wonderful tool for preserving biodiversity, while on the other, a threat to the preserve’s neighbors. Those neighbors, still living a simple agrarian hunter/gatherer existence, now find themselves cut off from a place that once provided food. Sure, the preserve provides service industry jobs for a few, but that isn’t always enough to feed a village.

Bourdain remains an important voice, but now has rivals to the food television throne he long occupied. Maybe the best food show on television is now found on the Sportsman Channel: Steve Rinella’s “Meateater.” Episodes feature Rinella hunting, killing and then cooking his game. The hunting footage is familiar and realistic, his field butchery skills are impressive, and the meat is always prepared simply with the kind of respect a super food such as wild game deserves. The show often ends with Rinella and his hunting partners sitting around a campfire eating the animal they just killed. In my book that’s healthy food porn.

Speaking of game, a nice run on the chukar grounds has stocked my freezer with the perfect ingredients for a coq au vin, including a couple older birds that will take nicely to a slow braise in red wine. That slow braise is a French farm wife’s trick for making edible old roosters which had outlived their usefulness.

The dish includes chunks of pork belly — lardons — adding richness to the sometimes dry, gamey birds. This is one recipe where it’s the perfect mix in.

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