Few meats, let alone foods, inspire as much fervor and excitement as bacon. But that begs the question: “Why do people like bacon so much?” No matter your personal thoughts on the matter, there's no denying that Americans' love of bacon is real, if not all-consuming. I mean, can you even name another food item that has a big enough fan base to justify festivals across the country, or even a whole summer camp? Probably not. And that's why I figured the best place to find the reason why people like bacon so much was the source: Camp Bacon, a weeklong celebration of all things porky, in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The flagship event of Camp Bacon is the Main Event, hosted on Zingerman's Cornman Farms. It's a full day of bacon tasting, bacon demonstrations (including a live butchery lesson), and lectures from bacon experts. We're talking bacon makers and pig farmers, butchers and chefs, food writers and journalists, even a market-research expert.
So I asked seven of these experts to answer the same question: Why do people like bacon so much? What is it about this breakfast meat that makes our mouths water and our imaginations run every time it's mentioned. Here's what they had to say.
Bacon is healthy yet indulgent
"Well, I think it’s somewhat of a response to people wanting to eat healthier and still craving some of the indulgences that only things like bacon can provide. We’re thinking much more in terms of balance. So we like fresh, we like to eat things like more poultry and those sort of things, but we also want to indulge in those things that are really good. And I think bacon fits that niche."
—Steven Burger, President of Burgers’ Smokehouse
Bacon is fun
"People like bacon because, first of all, it’s fun. It is umami. It’s that salty, fatty, satisfying, comforting happy place. You can do so many fun things with it. It makes things better … People realized they could do a lot of fun things with it, like making the taco but the bacon’s the shell, wrapping everything in bacon. It’s just a statement that bacon makes everything better. It’s almost like chocolate in a way. It just makes it better, but it’s the savory side of that equation instead of the sweet side. And now I think it’s bringing people back to understanding more about the whole hog and the different aspects of it that we’ve kind of ignored for a while."
—Susan Schwallie, Food and Beverage Consumption Market Researcher
Bacon is versatile—and pork is good
"I think the versatility of bacon is what makes it so great … I like to think of bacon as a verb. I have salty bits of pork in my fridge at all times from different parts of the animal and sometimes I have a chance to smoke them at home and sometimes I don’t, but it doesn’t have to just be the belly. Someone asked me once, ‘What’s your favorite cut of pork?’ And it’s pork. It’s all fucking good. [Laughs]"
—Brian Merkel, Butcher
Bacon is naughty
"The short answer would be that it tastes so good. The kind of boring, culinary answer would be the combination of salt, fat, and a little bit of sugar. It’s really addictive. But I think it’s so indulgent, and there’s a little sense of being naughty when you’re eating something that indulgent. I think that brings people together … You’re a little bit crazed. I love Greek mythology as a child, and I think about Dionysus where all these women drink and then they go crazy. That’s kind of how people are when they have really good pork belly or bacon. I think that’s something instinctive and naughty and ecstasy and great about it."
—Ji Hye Kim, Chef and Managing Partner at Miss Kim
Humans are genetically engineered to love bacon
"I think most people like bacon as much as they can because we're genetically engineered to love sweet and salty. But I really think it's that convenience food that you feel safe to leave out and transport and take places. I think the convenience side of it is what makes it so successful as a cured meat, that you feel like you can take out and use everywhere."
—Kieron J. Hales, Owner and Executive Chef of Zingerman’s Cornman Farms
Bacon is a taste of home, no matter where you're from
"There’s something so grounding about it. Ari [Weinzweig, cofounder and founding partner of Zingerman's] wrote about the fact that this is a quintessentially American food, and of course it doesn’t just belong here, but I do think there’s something about bacon that does feel like a taste of home to people here. I mean, I’m of Indian origin, but I still recognize that connection of something that feels grounded in my history here in the United States. So I think it’s that."
—Simran Sethi, Journalist and Author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
Bacon is tied to everything
"In writing the bacon book, I did have this sort of realization, having first studied olive oil more than I had studied bacon. Like in the Mediterranean, it’s hard for Americans to understand, but olive oil is everything. You hear [Americans] think of [olive oil], even now, as this thing you sort of add on at the end or you fry in, but over there, it’s really about adding as much olive oil as you can, and the quality of your oil is super critical. It’s tied to economics, it’s tied to religion, it’s tied to the seasonality of things, it’s really part of everything. And then I started to realize that it was actually true—other than for religious Jews like my family, Muslims, and vegetarians—it’s true for here [with bacon]. Because there’s pork traditions all over the place, and there’s all this lingo and politics. Even about “pork barrel politics.” So it’s really woven into the culture."
—Ari Weinzweig, Cofounder and Founding Partner of Zingerman’s and Author of Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.