Photo courtesy of NPR

I’ve known more than one person who claimed to be vegetarian “except for bacon.” When it comes to stories  of falling—or jumping—off the meat-free bandwagon, bacon is a commonly-named culprit. I’ll even admit that the fact that I have no intention of ever declaring myself a vegetarian has something to with how the smell of bacon does something crazy to my brain during a certain time of the month.

Though the idea of picking up a strip and eating it just doesn’t seem appetizing to me, no way am I going to freak out if I find a little in a bowl of soup at a restaurant or some pancetta in my pasta. There are more important other things to worry about in life than a few surprise bits of pork belly. And besides, I believe that cravings are something we should listen to or at least make an effort to understand, and I’m fascinated by the fact that when I’m losing blood, I have an intense desire to gnaw on a piece of salty, fatty pork flesh (whether I go there or not is another thing entirely). What does it all mean?

NPR asked several scientists about bacon and its “gateway to meat” status. Johan Lundstrom, a scientist who runs a lab at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and studies how the brain processes sensory information like smell, suggests that because bacon is one- to two-thirds fat and also has a lot of protein, it appeals to “our evolutionary quest for calories.” Additionally, because most of what we taste is actually related to smell, the powerful scent of bacon hits that much harder, priming us for how good it’s going to taste.

“There’s an intimate connection between odor and emotion, and odor and memory,” Lundstrom says. “When you pair that with the social atmosphere of weekend breakfast and hunger, bacon is in the perfect position to take advantage of how the brain is wired.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that makes complete sense. While I don’t think bacon is something people should eat in large quantities and I have my misgivings about the pork industry, I would be more likely to recommend that someone occasionally buy a small amount of high-quality bacon from a farmer or reputable butcher than to attempt to satisfy their craving via mass amounts of processed “fake” bacon. Obviously, that’s just my “I’m a fan of real food” opinion—take it or leave it.

I’m really curious to hear what you think. Do you think we’re hard-wired to crave foods like bacon? Do you think this kind of thinking of ridiculous? Thoughts on bacon in general...


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