The sound of fat crepitating away in a hot pan. Heady wafts of meat and smoke eddying up your nostrils. That unmistakable texture as it yields to your palate: crispy at the edges, all meaty succulence in the middle. The long briny, smoky finish. Ah, bacon: everything about it repulses me.
I know it’s a controversial opinion, especially on a site devoted to breakfast and recruiting for a bacon critic position. But, you see, bacon—like Justin Bieber—is a cultural phenomenon I simply cannot fathom. Where others see a harmlessly popular, mass-market product with endless scope for reinvention, I see a lack of cultural imagination. And so, too, with bacon.
And yet this so-called “meat candy” inspires fervent devotion across the foodie spectrum, from home cooks to Michelin-starred chefs. Which is fine. As a food writer, I appreciate that what and how you eat can be a polarizing matter. Especially in Britain, where eating habits have always been used to confer social identity. Therefore something as universally adored as bacon should be celebrated.
But here’s the thing: In my home country over the last five years or so it has taken over. As this very site demonstrates, there are whole worlds of breakfast options to be enjoyed, but in the cafes, train stations, and homes of Britain, bacon is all-conquering and ubiquitous, pushing other dishes and flavors to the margins. In restaurants, too, where bacon has become a lazy shortcut for chefs looking to add a tweet-worthy twist to a dish.
Will no one think of the baconphobes, all 1,312 members of the I Hate Bacon Facebook group, and the rest of us who suffer from this onslaught in silence? Because, let me tell you, as much as memes and Instagram would suggest otherwise, we do exist. And we have our own ideas on your precious foodstuff.
Let’s return to its texture, shall we? It’s gross. Stringy, sinewy, and likely to get stuck in your teeth. And there's that smell as it cooks in the pan, which to me is the least appetizing thing in the world, but seems to turn capable adults into drooling Neanderthals. Or how about the milky liquid that seeps off it as it fries? Another tick for gross.
None of this is easy for me write. In Britain, you’re pretty much a leper if you don’t like the stuff. Along with tea, royalty, and fighting in the street, bacon is stitched into the very fabric of our culture, tangled up in fusty notions of patriotism and class. Poor ex-Labour leader, Ed Miliband, never recovered after being pictured awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich in the lead-up to the 2014 General Election. The incident came to represent his ineptness. Because if you can’t even eat a bacon sandwich properly then how can you be expected to lead Britain?
UK food writer Tim Hayward devotes a whole chapter in his otherwise excellent book, Food DIY, to the subject of bacon, explaining that recipes have been passed down among British butchers and farmers for centuries and that people “would often keep a particularly successful or tasty method of curing as a family secret.” Which perhaps explains why people are so insistent about it.
Because, while not eating it for religious reasons is fine, if you can eat bacon then you bloody well will eat bacon! In a full-English breakfast. In a sandwich. With tea. Eat it! The average Brit reportedly consumes bacon three to four times a week, which is more frequently than they have sex (the two are indisputably linked). So if you don’t eat it, then, well, you must be very strange, or a pervert. For not liking it, you become the guy who likes Coldplay in a room full of hipsters: a source of mocking, pity, and downright fury. I am already bracing myself for the inevitable bacon backlash when this article reaches Blighty—the congealed bacon bullets in the post, death-threats crafted from off-cuts. I genuinely fear for my pathetic, bacon-free existence.
But for the good of breakfast, something has to change. And from this I draw my courage to speak out.
The persecution inflicted on baconphobes affects me more than most. “You don’t like bacon?” colleagues say, “That’s weird,” before swiftly disinviting me from the breakfast editorial meeting. And then there are all the times I’ve had to pick it out of a dish, while the foodie folk I’m supposed to be schmoozing look on in a mixture of bemusement and disgust. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty convinced I would be chief restaurant critic at The Guardian by now were it not for the fact that I once turned down bacon-wrapped scallops at a work function.
Over the years I have tried to retrain my palate. Once I even mildly enjoyed pancetta in a spaghetti carbonara. But that was Italian bacon and their food is always better. When it comes to the British variety, puce and flabby as a pig’s ear, my phobia cannot (unlike bacon) be cured.
Others have tried, too. Just as some religions insist that their followers proselytize non-believers, Brits do the same with bacon. As a child, my mom used to sneak rashers of it into my sausage (a perfectly acceptable pork product) sandwiches and hope I wouldn’t notice. I usually did—its flavor is about as unsubtle as a Trump rally—but one time, one time, I missed it. “Ha, see, you do like bacon!” she crowed. “From now on you will have eat it like the rest of us.” On other occasions, friends have offered to make me breakfast only to retract their offer after I stress for the thousandth time that I DON’T LIKE BACON. “It’s bacon or nothing,” they say. I’ll take the nothing, thanks.
Despite these scarring experiences, I haven’t yet given up all hope. I understand that American bacon is prepared slightly differently than British bacon. Whereas ours is taken from the back of the pig, US bacon is usually from the belly—to my mind, a tastier cut—and is typically less flabby.
One day I will tackle my phobia head-on, book a flight to the US, stumble into the first diner I find, and demand their finest cut of American bacon. Perhaps that blessed day will change my tastebuds forever, and I will be able to live out my culinary dreams unencumbered. Once home, I might even be tempted to indulge in a bacon sandwich, like the rest of my people.
Until that day (like Justin Bieber) I guess all I can say is sorry.
Sorry, Britain, that I do not share your love of bacon. Sorry to all the chefs I have offended after picking it out of my food. Sorry to my friends and family for not accepting your bacon sandwiches.
And, lastly, sorry to Extra Crispy, for I will never, ever be your bacon critic, though I’m pretty sure someone else will.
Londoner Isaac Parham writes about food, drink and travel. He likes to fry things, but NEVER bacon, and is a staunch defender of British food.