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Bacon Not What It Used To Be

Published March 22nd, 2012 in Eat for Health

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, BCIH ©2012

The pig dates back 40 million years to fossils which indicate wild pig-like animals roamed forests and swamps in Europe and Asia. By 4900 B.C. pigs were domesticated in China, and were being raised in Europe by 1500 B.C. On the insistence of Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus took eight pigs on his voyage to Cuba in 1493.

It is suggested that as man traveled he domesticated wild boar as he found them, rather than bringing pigs along for the journey. Food historians believe human consumption of pork is ancient. So is cured (smoked, salted, dried) pork, aka ham. Pigs were first commercially slaughtered in Cincinnati, Ohio, which became known as Porkopolis. More pork was packed there than any other place in the mid-west.  Now I admit it, I love smoked ham and lean bacon, especially like what I grew up with, made from apple wood smoke in an old smokehouse – there wasn’t a high Tec robotized system injecting gallons of smoke concentrate, salts, sugars and preservatives into the fat and flesh like today.

My dad would carve off slices of jowl or cheek bacon to fry up on Saturday, he also sliced the rind to make cracklings, and I especially liked the hard chewy smoky goodness. Ok I just described one of Sadie’s rawhide chew bones… hum I wonder, was I a taste tester for pup treats?

Back to Bacon… The side of a pig cured with salt in a single piece. The word originally meant pork of any type, fresh or cured, but this older usage had died out by the 17th century. Bacon, in the modern sense, is a product from the British Isles, or is produced abroad to British methods. Preserved pork, including sides salted to make bacon, held a place of primary importance in the British diet in past centuries. The first large-scale bacon curing business was set up in the 1770s by John Harris in Wiltshire, England.  Wiltshire remains the main bacon-producing area of Britain.

For years Bacon, pork and sometimes any meat that isn’t turkey or chicken has been deemed bad for your health. Many will argue it isn’t the meat that is bad it is the processing, and commercial feed lots that are the problem. Interestingly Bacon is considered the food tipping point for vegetarians.  It seems that bacon has a way of awakening carnivorous desires within even some of the preachiest of vegetarians.  Because bacon is one- to two-thirds fat and also has lots of protein, it speaks to our evolutionary quest for calories.  And since 90 percent of what we taste is really odor, bacon’s aggressive smell delivers a powerful hit to our sense of how good it will taste.

A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine finds daily consumption of red meat — particularly processed meat — may be riskier than carnivores realize.

“The statistics are staggering,” study author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public health said. “The increased risk is really substantial.”

He found people who consumed about one serving of red meat (beef, pork or lamb) per day had a 13 percent increased risk of mortality, compared with those who were eating very little meat. And processed meats raised the risk higher, to about a 20 percent increased risk of death from diseases including cancer and heart disease.

Once again I think back to family members who ate piles of bacon, sausages, and chops for breakfast before heading out for a day of building fence, moving cows, falling timber or working in the fields. Many of these individuals worked up till their 70’s and 80’s, doing what they loved. But the pork foods they enjoyed had never seen a stock yard, GMO corn, wheat and antibiotic baths.

The FDA has stated that salt is not a food preservative – they do however recognize sodium nitrates and nitrites as acceptable meat preservers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t salt curing one of the oldest forms of preserving meat? Today our food contains so many chemicals it is almost imposable to read the label on a food so simple as bacon.

So where does that leave meat lovers like me, the key to all things is moderation. I may not eat as many vegetables as I should or could, but I can be discerning about my meat, no longer do I even consider purchasing commercial meats or preserved meat products like lunch meats.  For me I am fortunate to have family still ranching in eastern Oregon, a husband and son who hunt and fish and for those times the freezer is running low; locally owned meat markets like Nicabobs who only carry antibiotic, hormone free meats.

You see I think it is the chemicals and government regulations that lead to many of our health problems – not the meat we consume.  If we return to natural foods both plant and flesh, get off the couch and push away from the computers, we will lower our stress levels, and that has been proven to be more indicative of good health than living off bean curd.

There is more to good health than the Status Quo.

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