This post is written in honor of the Hawkeyes (and Cyclones) of my home state that recently endured the wearisome Iowa Caucus. Day in and day out, these wholesome, hard-working Midwesterners go about their business and then for some strange reason are subjected to an endless barrage of political rallies and intrusive reporters every four years. No one really knows why this occurs; it is one of our world’s great mysteries alongside Stonehenge, Easter Island, and why high-rise jeans are back in style.
Anyway, back to Iowa. Iowa, you might have heard, raises a great many pigs. In fact, it is the top pig-raising state (producing almost one-third of the U.S’s pigs), it is home to over 6,200 pig farms, and in 2018, nearly 48 million pigs grew up on Iowa soil, according to Iowa Pork Producers Association (2020). Kudos to the Iowa farmers responsible for raising so many animals, and kudos to all the people further down the line that respectfully harvest and process pigs into the nutritious, delicious cuts sold and served all over the world. Among these cuts is true bacon. That is, bacon in the strictly legal sense, bacon that doesn’t need to be explained. If bacon was a celebrity (which it kind of is, really), it wouldn’t need a last name. According to the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, bacon is “the cured belly of a swine carcass” (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2005). If bacon is made from other parts of the pig, then that bacon needs to be further defined (USDA, 2005). If bacon is made from any other species of animal (cow, turkey, duck, etc.), it needs to be defined even more so with an accurate description of the product’s composition under the product name (USDA, 2005). This is in large part due to the unique characteristic of bacon; human ingenuity has led to the creation of meat products similar in taste, appearance, and culinary use to pork bacon but still not equal to the real thing. After all, the conventional bacon-making process, which is shown through an excellent video produced by the North American Meat Institute, just can’t be carried out using the belly of any other animal. The natural shape of the belly allows for ingredients applied through injection to be evenly distributed and, ultimately, for slices with relatively uniform lengths and widths. The structure of the belly, with its ribbons of lean and fat, also creates the eating experience that bacon-lovers adore. Indeed, bacon-making techniques have changed to a slight degree over time, and swine bellies have been valued and used for nourishment from ancient to modern times (White & Young, 2008). Of course, that’s not to say bacons made in different styles and from different species should avoided; variety is the spice of life, and if you prefer bacon made from something other than swine belly for health, religious, taste, or other reasons, then enjoy it!
So with all seriousness, thank you, Iowa pig farmers, for your tireless devotion to your herds. Thank you for raising your animals with care and respect. Without properly raised animals, high-quality meats enjoyed the world-over could not be attained. And where would we be without high-quality bacon? It probably would not be as valued as it is now with bacon making appearances at every meal of the day. It certainly wouldn’t be celebrated at events like the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival taking place in Des Moines, Iowa on March 2, 2020, with the theme “Baconritaville.” Perhaps some of the politicians who recently barnstormed Iowa will return to Des Moines in March to rub elbows with us common Joe’s and Jane’s in the Bacon Fellowship Hall or in the Chamber of Bacon Enlightenment and take the time to thank Iowa farmers for making the celebration possible.
Iowa Pork Producers Association (2020). Iowa Pork Facts. https://www.iowapork.org/news-from-the-iowa-pork-producers-association/iowa-pork-facts/
United States Department of Agriculture (2005). Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/7c48be3e-e516-4ccf-a2d5-b95a128f04ae/Labeling-Policy-Book.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
White, L. & Young, B. (2008). Bacon Technology 101. The National Provisioner, (February 2008), BTJ1-BTJ20. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.provisioneronline.com/ext/resources/march2011images/Tech_Journals/PO-Bacon-Tech-Journal-08.pdf.