Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bacon, Bacon, Bacon

I have kept kosher to some extent pretty much all of my life. I’ve had varying levels of kashrut observance, from keeping separate dishes to eating certain kinds of meat in restaurants. Right now, we don’t eat meat that isn’t specifically kosher, but our kitchen isn’t 100% kosher, either. We’re sort of in the middle on the “kashrut spectrum,” if you will, where at one end is zero kashrut - eat anything, cook anything, try anything - and the other end is 100% kashrut, with carefully checked and marked food, separate dishes, utensils, cookware, and appliances.

That said, I remember eating bacon exactly one time in my entire life. Bacon is simply not in my culinary vocabulary, nor is any other kind of pork, shellfish, or game. It’s just something I would never eat. I don’t remember what bacon tastes like. I don’t have a clue why scallops and shrimp and lobster are so popular. To me, crustaceans look like giant bugs, and mollusks like big bags of mucus, and why would anyone want to eat that?

The thing is, I watch a lot of Food Network. (A lot.) I’ve learned quite a bit about cooking in doing so, and I consider myself a pretty decent cook (if I do say so myself…). Just about every chef on Food Network cooks a dish containing one or more non-kosher elements in just about every show. As an example, I was watching a rerun of “Giada at Home” this afternoon, and Giada de Laurentiis made stuffed peppers with ricotta, peas, and pancetta. She rhapsodized over the crispiness and saltiness of the pancetta, reveled in cooking it, and I sat there with a blank stare, because I couldn’t even begin to imagine what her dish would end up tasting like. As far as the rest of the ingredients, I could totally see myself making that dish – it looked delicious – but is it the same without the pancetta? I’ll never know.

I’ve learned not to let it bother me too much, the ubiquitousness of bacon and other pork products in most of the major world cuisines. I still enjoy watching the cooking shows, and I mentally remove the non-kosher items from a given dish, imagine what it might taste like, and decide if I’d like to try making it. (I won’t go into how chefs seem incapable of cooking anything without both meat and dairy products in them!) I’ve found some really brilliant and delicious recipes this way, such as Rachael Ray’s pumpkin soup (YUM). Simply replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock, or with a chicken-flavored, parve chicken soup base, and voila! Kosher soup. But I digress.

I understand that if you don’t keep kosher, bacon is pretty much a staple for breakfast, and bacon/pork fat are a perfectly reasonable thing to use to flavor your dishes. I don’t begrudge you non-kosher-keeping folks your bacon and pork. Really, I don’t. I don’t want any, but you’re welcome to eat it.

But recently I came upon a product in the store that I simply couldn’t get past. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That product is Kraft Deli Deluxe Cheese Slices, Bacon Cheddar. As far as I can tell, this is basically Kraft American Cheese with bacon in it. (I’m sure you’ve seen the idiotic commercials, with the “bomb squad” raiding a woman’s cooler, only to have the woman take the package of cheese out of the cooler, thank the bomb squad man, and happily put a slice of her bacon-cheese on a very nice looking sandwich.)

Is the American need for bacon so strong that it is now necessary to put bacon IN the cheese? See, this gets me on two levels. First, it’s bacon, as discussed above. Second, it’s meat and dairy together, which really doesn’t matter all that much, seeing as it’s bacon, except that I would never make a sandwich with both meat and cheese in it, so I simply cannot fathom the need to have a product which fuses the meat and the cheese into one simple slice.

On a similar note, I heard a commercial on the radio for turkey breast slices with bacon flavor. Apparently, the turkey is smoked along with the bacon, and you can actually see bits of bacon on your turkey! Wow!

I like turkey. I have nothing against it. But the thought of, well, contaminating it with bacon confuses me almost as much as the cheese.

I genuinely need some enlightenment, here. Is bacon that amazing that it needs to feature in every meal in the United States? What is it about bacon that makes people salivate so? And why, oh why, does Kraft need to put the bacon IN the cheese?!


The Newmans said...

We call it the Pork Network. Every recipe has one part or another of pig in it.

Rebecca said...

Bacon is the ultimate in "sinfully delicious" (and I don't even mean that in the Jewish sense) foods. Fatty, greasy, salty deliciousness. I've tried turkey bacon and nope- not the same. Gotta be from a nasty pig to be goooood. You know what else is the most delicious meat ever? Jamon Serrano, or serrano ham. It's ham that's been cured a certain way and they only make it in Spain. In my 'pinion, it's reason enough to move there and live there and never ever leave.


..I don't eat it anymore, cuz I done gone kosher. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

Bacon is a total fad right now, that's all. People ate it before, but the whole "bacon flavored chocolate" and "bacon scented deodorant" business is recent, and eventually people will move on.

I can take it or leave it, myself. It can be really tasty in some settings, but I'm definitely not a "mmmm.... bacon" person.

I'm also not much of a lobster person either, for that matter. Not that it's relevant, since I'm not Jewish.

Anonymous said...

if you want to enjoy some of what we like about bacon in dishes, "Bacon Salt" (http://www.baconsalt.com/) is 100% vegan and kosher.

Gaby said...

Nice work, Jess.

I remember growing up and our big treat on Sunday was when our Dad would make us bacon and eggs.

Thank G-d those days are long gone and narry a treifa morsal doth pass my lips. Sure, bacon is tasty, but I've never felt I was missing out on anything.

As to the need to put the bacon in the cheese, the laws of kashrut are not incumbent on non-Jews, so basically they can eat as much bacon in anyway they want and it's fine for them. If it tastes good to non-Jewish people, then no reason why they shouldn't eat it.

Keep up the awesome stuff,


Katie said...

Couldn't resist commenting since a Wendys commercial for the "baconator" just came on. I think the bacon obsession is in part because of the salty, crispy, junk-food like taste but I wonder if it's also the meat and pork companies pushing their product. The meat lobby is huge and it could be a way to sell more meat products to fast food restaurants and stores.