Is there re­ally such a thing as too much ba­con?

Clau­dia McNeilly,

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WEEKEND POST - Week­end Post

In a ware­house on the out­skirts of Toronto, a YouTube star is shout­ing an ex­ple­tive at the top of his lungs. The pierc­ing sound ric­o­chets through the build­ing, over the cam­eras and the Te­flon fry­ing pans that have been ar­ranged around the set kitchen.

I gasp at the sound of it, im­me­di­ately scan­ning the room to see what’s wrong. But the men who are part of the YouTube chan­nel’s crew sip Red Bulls non­cha­lantly with­out look­ing up from their phones and the cam­era­men hardly fl i nch. T he swear­ing isn’t news to them. This is how Har­ley Moren­stein gets into char­ac­ter.

“Aaaaand,” drawls a man over the scream, mo­tion­ing like a con­duc­tor in front of an or­ches­tra that the YouTube live stream is about to start. “Three, two,” he de­clares, point­ing his in­dex fin­ger to the ceil­ing while mouthing the word “one.” Sud­denly, Moren­stein’s ex­pres­sion fades into the men­ac­ing smirk that has be­come his sig­na­ture. It is the same dis­po­si­tion he has com­bined with ba­con strips and ob­scen­i­ties to earn his YouTube chan­nel Epic Meal Time over seven mil­lion sub­scribers since de­but­ing in 2010.

While a lot has changed in the seven years since Epic Meal Time be­gan in­fil­trat­ing YouTube’s air­waves with ex­ple­tives and cured strips of pork, the show has not. Cer­tainly, there’s some­thing com­fort­ing about a tem­plate that con­tin­ues to work, but the dishes that helped pro­pel the chan­nel to in­ter­net su­per­star­dom haven’t aged well. In­stead of serv­ing as a fun re­minder of how far in­ter­net cook­ing has come, Epic Meal Time’s clas­sic videos have since been swal­lowed up in the hum of vi­ral in­ter­net foods they helped cre­ate. Recipes for a TurBa­conEpic, which in­volves five types of poul­try in a pig wrapped in ba­con and as­sem­bled with some­thing called “meat glue” and gar­nished with Ba­cona­tors, or a 71,000 calo­rie Fast Food Lasagna wrapped in ba­con strips and smeared in a gal­lon of Big Mac Sauce, have be­come some­what com­mon­place in the culi­nary world of ex­tremes. Just as peo­ple use the brand name “Kleenex” to re­fer to all tis­sues, ba­con-lovers flock to the count­less ba­con-laden spoofs that Epic Meal Time in­spired with­out both­er­ing to think about the com­pany that cre­ated the trend.

More than any other cook­ing show, Epic Meal Time in­tro­duced the idea that the glut­tonous con­sump­tion of ba­con can be used as a per­son­al­ity trait. Shortly af­ter the show found main­stream suc­cess, fans of the YouTube chan­nel be­gan sport­ing T- shirts em­bla­zoned with “Ba­conStrips&” in five sep­a­rate rows of font. Seek­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on ba­con’s sud­den vi­ral pop­u­lar­ity, chefs around the world started adding ba­con to ev­ery­thing. En­tire restau­rants, like Epic Ba­con Na­tion in Toronto, were erected in the name of shov­ing ba­con into a food’s ev­ery pos­si­ble ori­fice. And Van­cou­ver and Ot­tawa both hosted ba­con food fes­ti­vals exclusively ded­i­cated to the serv­ing of the cured meat.

In Epic Meal Time’s hey­day, it wasn’t hard to con­vince peo­ple that ba­con was wor­thy of culi­nary cult sta­tus. Not only is the tri­fecta of salt, fat and crunch found in each


glis­ten­ing strip near im­pos­si­ble to re­sist, but the tim­ing also couldn’t have been bet­ter. In the be­gin­ning, Epic Meal Time coasted on the pre­vail­ing nu­tri­tional wis­dom that low carb, high- pro­tein di­ets were a healthy choice. Sud­denly, eat­ing ba­con wasn’t just de­li­cious; it also made you more in­ter­est­ing and it could be jus­ti­fied through ac­cepted nu­tri­tional wis­dom. Of course, we took this too-good-to-be-true prom­ise too far. The last seven years have been spent over­dos­ing on ba­con. From grilled cheese wrapped in ba­con, to ba­con brown­ies, ba­con cronuts and ba­con milk­shakes, there is al­most no trendy food that the cured pork hasn’t touched. But in­stead of im­bu­ing foods with de­li­cious salty and smoky ba­con flavour, the in­gre­di­ent has be­come syn­ony­mous with glut­tonous, trend- driven food cul­ture. With ev­ery vi­ral, ba­con-laden milk­shake that gets fun­nelled into a chilled glass, the clas­sic break­fast food is ce­mented as a sym­bol of all the worst as­pects of food cul­ture.

The fall­out of our col­lec­tive ba­con ob­ses­sion doesn’t end at milk­shake shops and an- noy­ing food videos. In­creased de­mand has also made ba­con more ex­pen­sive. Sta­tis­tics Canada has re­ported that the price of ba­con has in­creased from $5.16 per 500 grams in 2013 to $ 6.79 in 2017, an in­crease of 27 per cent. This is a shame, be­cause be­fore its cor­rup­tion, ba­con was a won­der­ful food. And it isn’t the first time we’ve ru­ined a food with over­con­sump­tion. Over­fish­ing of oys­ters has meant that to­day only one per cent of the oys­ters that were in the ocean 100 years ago re­main. Since oys­ters act as nat­u­ral vacuum clean­ers, their ab­sence has led to murky, un­fil­tered wa­ters and sick sea life. An in­sa­tiable hunger for ham­burg­ers and steaks has led to the de­for­esta­tion of the Ama­zo­nian rain­for­est, mas­sive global CO2 emis­sions and, ac­cord­ing to some ex­perts, in­creased can­cer risk.

Over­con­sump­tion of ba­con has also been linked to in­creased can­cer risk. The Global Bur­den of Dis­ease Project, an in­de­pen­dent re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, es­ti­mated that 34,000 can­cer deaths per year world­wide are at­trib­ut­able to di­ets high in pro­cessed meat. In 2015, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion urged peo­ple to stop eat­ing ba­con af­ter find­ing that the cured pork is a group one car­cino­gen, putting it in the same cat­e­gory of can­cer risk as as­bestos and to­bacco. But even the bonechilling health warn­ings haven’t de­terred food­ies from slather­ing on ba­con strips. In­stead of get­ting old like the Epic Meal Time videos that in­spired the trend, the mor­eis-more ba­con men­tal­ity has con­tin­ued to thrive. In try­ing to stand-out in a sea of over­the-top cook­ing videos, chefs and restau­ra­teurs have be­gun to see ba­con as a culi­nary safety net. Add it to a dish and cus­tomers will at least want to try – what­ever it is you’re mak­ing.

Ul­ti­mately, with so much global un­rest, shouldn’t we just let peo­ple have their ba­con if that’s what they want? Sure. But in over­do­ing it we’ve ru­ined what was once a per­fect in­dul­gence. In­stead of con­tin­u­ing to gorge on ba­con un­til each pack­age costs $ 20 and can­cer kills all of us, we should let ba­con’s demise be a les­son for the next time we en­counter a per­fect food.

Too much of a good thing is ab­so­lutely too much of a good thing. And in our search for com­fort in the food we eat, we need all the per­fect foods we can get.

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