Self-portrait in Bacon

I thought I’d use my reaction to Tara Parker-Pope’s “Don’t Bring Home the Bacon” to tell you a little about me. Two reasons: a) some of you might like to know more than my professional history and hobbies, and b) any analysis of this NYT blog post needs a personal approach.

I grew up in rural, south-central Virginia, far from any DC suburb or coastal region. Dad cooked the following on rotation when he wasn’t working overnight in the fire station: hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti with meat sauce, fried chicken, fried pork chops in gravy. For lunch, we ate deli meat sandwiches or chicken nuggets at school. When Dad worked, Mom, my brother and I ate out, usually fast food. We ate plenty of fresh vegetables from my grandmother’s garden or the fruit stand. We fried every vegetable in bacon grease or boiled them down with fat back. Vegetarianism was a strange cult. Veganism was not in my vocabulary. No hyperbole necessary.

Don’t laugh; millions of southerners and rural folks eat this way. I had no idea that two Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a Pepsi wasn’t a proper breakfast until I became body-conscious in middle school.

Fast-forward ten or twelve years, and I still eat meat. Bacon is my absolute favorite. My spouse and I buy grass-fed beef and cage-free eggs from the farmer’s market and organic chicken at the grocery store. We still eat deli meat simply because it’s lower in calories and fat than peanut butter. We receive a box of fresh veggies each week from Featherstone Farm‘s CSA. Organic milk for him, almond milk for me, locally grown fruits and veggies when possible, and we’ve recently begun leaving fake foods like 100 calorie packs at the grocery store.

From fried pork chops with mashed potatoes and fried squash to a mostly organic and local grilled chicken salad is no small feat. But it’s not enough:

…the research, published this week in the journal Circulation, is not so much a celebration of red meat as it is an indictment of processed meats like bacon, sausage and deli meats. Eating one serving of those foods a day was associated with a 42 percent higher risk of heart disease and 19 percent increased risk of diabetes…

The findings come from a broad analysis of several studies tracking meat consumption and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Processed meats include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats.

Notably, the culprit in processed meats wasn’t the saturated fat or cholesterol — both whole cuts of meat and processed meats contained the same amount per serving. The big differences were the levels of sodium and chemical preservatives. Processed meats had about four times more sodium and 50 percent more nitrate preservatives than unprocessed meats.

Oh, no. My pride in preferring sliced turkey over a big ribeye? Destroyed. In skipping the bacon cheeseburger for the BLT? Mocked. My daily mesquite smoked turkey sandwich is killing me. My occasional consumption of bacon at restaurants, my summer cookout bratwurst… know any good cardiologists?

Clearly, it’s time for more changes. Eliminating deli meats and still maintaining a low-calorie consumption will probably be the toughest. Reformed sliced turkeytarians, any good advice?


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