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  • Writer's pictureBryan

WHAT ABOUT BACON? | & Why I Don't Miss It

Anyone following a plant-based diet, from the recently-initiated to the lifelong herbivore, is regaled by their omnivorous counterparts with a familiar barrage of questions.

  • “How do you get your protein?”

  • “How can you survive on nothing but salad”

  • “Don’t you miss cheese?”

And then there is the somewhat ambiguous three-word retort: “what about bacon?”

Since moving beyond meat, there have been certain fragrances and flavors that have piqued my senses, transported me back to those tastes, even specific occasions, of a time when I was still eating animal products.

Some people have asked, as the bacon sizzles away in a pan, if I don’t enjoy the smell. Since ditching it from my diet, I generally find it pretty overpowering, but must confess that - on rare occasions - I do find the smell quite pleasant, but that isn’t to suggest that I would want to eat any.

Yes, it sometimes smells wonderful but not delicious, not appetizing - it is simply a good smell.

Roses smell divine, but that doesn’t compel us to eat them. Some are fond of the aroma of fresh paint, but they’d never consider drinking it by the gallon.

It’s possible to like the smell of something without actually wanting it, and the reverse is also true: we can convince ourselves that something is pleasant when the abundantly clear reality is the polar opposite, such as with smoking.

The Allure of Bacon

Bacon is a powerful and distinct smell. As one of the most readily-consumed processed meats in a western diet, pretty much everyone has tried it, the majority love it, and many meat-eaters can’t comprehend life without it; hence the confounding question of “what about bacon?”

As vegans, vegetarians or plant-basers, we see the other side. We see the health issues, the artificial processing, the environmental damage, and, depending on the purpose behind your meat-free decision, the animal cruelty. So it’s hard to see why people would be utterly convinced that bacon would be our carnivorous Achilles Heel.

If you’ve never eaten meat, this perplexity will be impossible to diminish, but for those who have converted at some time in their lives, there is an ability to empathize. The morning after a big night out, when you feel like the ground is moving and Mike Tyson is using your brain as a sparring partner, and your loving parent/partner/roommate is whipping you up a bacon sandwich, that smell and taste is heaven-sent.

Lazy Sundays with the newspaper become more indulgent and gratifying with a couple of fried eggs and some lovely, crispy bacon; and the 5 am road trips are made a little less painful with a detour to the Drive-Thru for a McBacon Whatever.

It is horrendously distasteful for us now, as we peer back from the other side, but many of us can’t deny that yes, there was a time when we simply loved everything about those thin, salty slices of a pig.

But now...bacon? Why?

The Health & Environment Impacts of Bacon

Everything about bacon is strong; its flavor, its smell, even its texture. But these very reasons why we may once have adored it and others can’t believe we don’t miss it are also the very reasons we now find it so offputting.

Frying bacon is as familiar smell in many cafes as the aroma of roasted coffee, its rich and salty flavor quick to recall to the lips and tongues of most meat-eaters. These same attributes that have carnivores craving their next serving of fried pork products only affirms our disdain for bacon. Yet this is only the superficial aspect of bacon’s lack of appeal.

Now classified as a Class-1 carcinogen - alongside smoking and asbestos - this should be more than enough to put everyone off bacon for life

Many leading authorities, including the American Cancer Society [1] and the Australian Cancer Council [2] state that eating between two and four rashers of bacon a day increases your risk of colorectal cancer by almost 20 percent. The WHO has even estimated that the consumption of processed meats leads to 34,000 deaths from cancer annually worldwide [3].

Now classified as a Class-1 carcinogen (alongside 120 other proven cancer-causing products, including smoking and asbestos), this should be more than enough to put everyone off for life, but the multi-billion dollar industry spends a fortune on marketing it as a delectable treat, and so its popularity continues.

Environmentally, pig farming could also be considered cancerous - to the planet. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are where much of our bacon comes from. Though cost-effective, this high-intensity farming process is an environmental ticking time bomb.

Taking up valuable land, water, and crop resources, these CAFOs also create huge amounts of waste. Fecal lagoons are created to contain the waste, but these toxic pools breed all manner of pathogens and bacteria, potentially lethal to humans and wildlife. If these lagoons overflow, or if their contents seep through the earth into the water table, all groundwater in the area will be not only unusable, it will be irrevocably polluted. Heavy rains, failing dikes, porous ground - it doesn’t take much for these noxious lakes to harm the environment for miles around [4].

As a processed meat, bacon also contains numerous additives. Preservatives, which induce the carcinogens [3], are only one factor.

Bacon is high in added mineral salt and saturated fats. It should be noted that neither salt nor saturated fats are as bad as we once thought, but above average consumption can lead to heart disease, cholesterol issues, obesity, and many other health concerns. An average serving of bacon contains 40 percent of your daily intake for both salt and fats [5]. Sure, that leaves 60 percent, but that 60 percent has to stretch across every other product you consume for the rest of the day, and with the average American devouring 18 pounds of bacon a year, it goes to show that these recommended daily intakes are being pushed, in some cases, to beyond breaking point.

These facts should be more than enough, and without even broaching the fact that pigs are more intelligent than dogs - variously reported to be emotionally and cognitively intelligent, on a skill level akin to chimpanzees and an average 3-year-old child - and yet subjected to some of the most inhumane and cruel farming practices of any livestock, to turn anyone off bacon for life.

If it’s Flavor You Want, Who Needs Bacon?

When we take all of this into account, it is little wonder that bacon, with its distinct and overbearing scent and taste, becomes rapidly unappealing once we make the switch to a wholefood plant-based diet, the question of “what about bacon?” becoming equally as swiftly redundant.

If lingering cravings remain, it doesn’t mean you need to doubt your decision and environmentally-friendly, health-conscious, meat free-free, cruelty-free future. Many plant-based types of meat and bacon substitutes are now available, and far healthier and less environmentally detrimental than the real thing. Thin-sliced eggplant grilled with a thin spread of miso paste, or drizzled in Braggs or soy sauce, offers a quick, easy and healthy substitute. And even sun-dried tomatoes can be a simple, salty quencher of cravings in dishes such as a carbonara or Caesar salad.

With just a little investigation, and with this knowledge at your disposal, you’ll be agreeing with those carnivorous neigh-sayers before you know it:

“What about bacon?” Exactly - what about bacon? No thanks.


Bryan is a 'self-taught' plant-based activist, discovering the benefits of eliminating animal products from his diet over 10 years ago. Since that time, he has advocated not only for a social shift in dietary and environmental awareness but also to reverse the construct that meat consumption is somehow tied to manliness and machismo.

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