Yes, bacon really is killing us
March 3, 2018 7:27 AM   Subscribe

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didn’t have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we haven’t been told – including by the WHO – is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (101 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
as the article points out, nitrates and nitrites aren't even necessary to make cured whole meats, including bacon. their use is motivated by capital's need to increase profits at the expense of all other concerns, including human life.
posted by indubitable at 7:35 AM on March 3, 2018 [13 favorites]


Would you like a milkshake, duck, with your ironic bacon bap?
posted by davemee at 7:42 AM on March 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Big Bacon ...
posted by mfoight at 7:45 AM on March 3, 2018


Tobacco, oil, sugar and now bacon?

Is it time for Guillotines yet?
posted by jonnay at 7:55 AM on March 3, 2018


Yes, but killing us with delicious and salty love.

And that's ok.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:03 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


The HP is safe though, yeah? So good it cancels out the bacon badness?
posted by biffa at 8:06 AM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thing is it doesn’t have to kill us like this.

Like, decide to cut profits, raise prices a touch, expand production lines for nitrite-free bacon for however much longer the curing time is (that way you maintain the supply chain) and then phase over to nitrite free bacon.

Why is this fucking controversial.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:06 AM on March 3, 2018 [53 favorites]


Because 'cut profits'.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2018 [25 favorites]


So the companies' argument is "we need to use carcinogenic ingredients because if we don't, we'd make less money?" Who fucking cares? Milk's a lot more profitable when you're allowed to dump chalk in it but god knows that's uncontroversially illegal.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:15 AM on March 3, 2018 [42 favorites]


But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

Nobody wants to be an outsider or a nag. Very few people are willing to take these findings to their logical conclusion: changing the cultural norms around meat, as we've done with smoking, and are now doing with sexual harassment.

I work with doctors and scientists who've done first-hand studies showing the dangers of processed meats, yet still reach for the ham and bacon on the buffet table. They know they're being naughty, but like St. Augustine, they're saying "I want to be good, but not precisely now".
posted by Modest House at 8:16 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


What I’d like to know: can you make bacon from an octopus?
posted by kozad at 8:17 AM on March 3, 2018 [15 favorites]


Thought-provoking article, thank you for posting.

I especially resonated with this passage:
In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains can’t cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards.
I’m not a big bacon eater anymore, but having started a Keto diet a few months ago, the article had me reflecting on how I’d inadvertently begun to increase the amount of other processed meats I’m consuming. Just before reading the article, I’d just polished off a package of Genoa salami rolls with provolone!

Must be more careful about that in the future...
posted by darkstar at 8:20 AM on March 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


Our brains can’t cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards.

I bet that a brain could actually do things differently
posted by thelonius at 8:22 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


I totally wouldn't mind paying a bit more for less carcinogenic cured meats. But don't ask me to give them up entirely, because that's not gonna happen.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:28 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


as the article points out, nitrates and nitrites aren't even necessary to make cured whole meats, including bacon

They are necessary to make bacon that tastes like traditional bacon, though. The nitrates give bacon and nitrate-cured hams the characteristic 'ham-y' flavor and are part of the reason why bacon tastes like it does rather than like salt pork or pork belly.

Whether that's worth the risk of cancer, I don't know. Red meat consumption in general is linked to cancer, for example, and relatively few people are suggesting banning that outright.

expand production lines for nitrite-free bacon for however much longer the curing time is

The article suggests that truly nitrite-free bacon (not, as the article points out, the 'uncured' stuff you see in the US that is still made with plenty of nitrites from celery extract) is actually faster to make: "Because it is quick to produce, this [genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham] is much more “economically viable” to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham."

This is the core public health argument, by the way:
The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day – equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog – would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling.
Assuming a linear risk model (which is a big assumption), then consuming a more reasonable couple of rashers of bacon per week would make the risk increase 2.5%, or in absolute terms from ~5% to ~5.1%. Is that worth banning bacon outright, as opposed to a consumer education campaign and perhaps a few other measures such as taxation or regulations on product size and the amount of nitrites that can be used?
posted by jedicus at 8:28 AM on March 3, 2018 [20 favorites]


I stopped eating meat when I was 19. For half a year when I was 30 I rented an apartment with a friend who fried bacon regularly, like at least twice a month. If I came home after he'd been cooking bacon my first reaction was never: “Oh, he's been cooking”, but: “Why’s there a chemical smell in my apartment?”

I used to think that this was because red meat no longer smelled like food to me but in the years since I’ve come to realize that, no, it’s only frying bacon that smells like someone’s been stripping paint in the kitchen.
posted by Kattullus at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2018 [14 favorites]


The article mentions Prosciutto di Parma, but Trader Joe’s has a nitrate-free prosciutto, as well.
posted by darkstar at 8:46 AM on March 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


Now I get to look up nitrate in slavic languages so I can read the ingredients where I am. Sigh.

I too have been back a more Paleo/keto kick and smoked turkey lunch meat with some cheese is a go-to.

Sigh.
posted by sio42 at 8:48 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm Muslim and didn't grow up with the smell of bacon. My kids eat chicken and turkey bacon and whenever we cook it I can't stand the metallic smell. I enjoy the smell of cooked meat in general, even if I no longer eat it, but bacon is a big no for me.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:52 AM on March 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Be sure to look for nitrites on the packaging or sometimes pink salt or saltpeter. Nitrates present in the food may form only because of the addition of curing agents and so may not be listed as an ingredient.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh man.

/me makes longer list for googling
posted by sio42 at 9:01 AM on March 3, 2018


I am very much ...not sure about this piece. I'm not challenging the study findings or the claim that nitrates are harmful in and of themselves. It's not the facts of the reporting, which I can't contest, but the point of view the author chose - the framing of the risk level and type, and the identification of the central issue.

First I want to look at these:

  • Consuming 50g of processed meat a day – equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog – would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime
  • a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day – less than a rasher – could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life
  • two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer

  • I don't doubt that a lot of people may be eating hot dogs once a week or more, especially kids. That's concerning, and not to be encouraged. But eating a rasher of bacon a day is a lot of bacon and not something I am witnessing many people around me consuming. I question how many people are eating these specific foods in these quantities that often.

    processed meats will be “the next sugar” – a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us

    Has the government stepped in to protect us from sugar? Which government and how? Apart from public-health information, I don't see much movement in this direction - sugars are now added to more foods all the time - soup, pasta sauce, yogurt - and access to sugars seems only to grow ever wider. I sure hope sugar regulation isn't providing the model for processed-meat regulation!

    In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century.

    Oh sure, if culture, history, and flavor didn't matter to people in any way. This is like saying that our habit of eating cheese should have died out when we figured out how to transport and store milk using refrigeration. Or, for that matter, our habit of using salt to season food. Or eating raisins and dried fruit.

    Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

    Okay, but a lot of that half includes things that are not bacon or sausage - plain old ham, the sliced deli meats you get at the deli counter, and even jarred spaghetti sauce or canned chili with meat or the pepperoni on a pizza or in a Hot Pocket. Why single out the bacon?

    The answer is that she's right that people are irrational about bacon - she knows it has high valance and that's why it's in the headline, even though the actual story is about the much duller-sounding category of "processed meats." Centering bacon just contributes to its mythos and plays into the very tiring "bacon is the worst evil ever/you'll pry it from my cold dead hands" pop culture dialectic. Bacon is neither that much better nor that much worse for you than other similar foods like salami or pepperoni. From the perspectives of fat, proteins, and cholesterols, there are other things we eat regularly and don't valorize or demonize to the same degree that are nutritionally very similar.

    The thing with the love of bacon - it's embedded in the history of the Western diet with overtones of heartiness, home, luxury and abundance and that's been true a long time, but at the same time it is only in the past two decades that it has crawled off the breakfast plate and out of the BLT and become a ubiquitous food, and that's entirely due to commercial promoters. There was a time, and I can remember it, when bacon was not present in wraps, chocolate bars, salads, pizzas, jams, burgers, sandwiches, soups, doughnuts, martinis, Bloody Marys, paninis, mac and cheese, vegetable dishes...we no longer even bat an eye at seeing bacon permeating the entire menu. As this article "You Like Bacon Because They Told You To" sums up, that is no an accident, but a result of millions of dollars and untold energy lobbying and PR and food purveyors capitalizing on a trend until it reaches pop culture saturation. So all in all, we have maybe run a little rampant with the bacon in going along with this agenda, to the point where people can't think well about it and get it back into the position it should occupy among other processed, high-fat, high-sodium foods: as relatively rare treats.

    The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those – many on low incomes – for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains.

    Soooooo what you're saying ultimately is that when it comes to diet we have a broad public health issue which demands a total overhaul of food policy and access, improving access and affordability for a wider variety of foods, awareness about the qualities needed in a well-rounded and health-supporting diet, and the resources and time to purchase and prepare them? Well, let's get about that, then, rather than continuing to follow the pattern of the Western dietary handwringing press by isolating a single ingredient or foodstuff for demonization and over-extrapolating recommendations from narrowly structured studies that exclude almost everything about the real-world eating context and surrounding diet and lifestyle issues that render that diet and its effects understandable. If the "hipsters" in cafes can eat bacon occasionally without concern, let's make sure we aren't using health claims as a thin veneer to create two classes of eaters, one with access, permission and the opportunity to make their own choices, and one without.If we've got a concern, it's not that people are eating too much of one thing - it's that the general Western diet taken as a whole is full of problems, and only a comprehensive consideration of the complex interactions among foods, bodies, cultures, land, animals, and commercial capitalist interests and powers is going to produce any kind of meaningful progress.
    posted by Miko at 9:18 AM on March 3, 2018 [79 favorites]


    First I want to look at these:

    Consuming 50g of processed meat a day – equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog – would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime


    This kind of relative risk statement is also not optimal - this is the way you frame it if you want a not-huge absolute increase to make a bigger splash.

    The first table that pops up on the internets here suggests the lifetime risk should be on the order of 5-10% - a 18% increase in that is an extra 1-2%, obviously not good but doesn't sound as alarming.
    posted by Dr Dracator at 9:38 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


    But eating a rasher of bacon a day is a lot of bacon and not something I am witnessing many people around me consuming. I question how many people are eating these specific foods in these quantities that often.

    50 grams works out to ~1.75 oz, that's one or two strips of bacon, it doesn't seem like an outlandish amount. There's probably some difference in meaning of the term "rasher" between British and American English.
    posted by indubitable at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2018 [15 favorites]


    I just finished the last of the bacon farinata, I haven't nailed the technique yet, but it was still quite tasty. I would pay more for nitrate-free bacon. Duh. I pay more for thick-sliced, which is odd because it is literally the same amount of bacon.

    I don't care about it being pink. It's not sentimental. I like bacon because it is very savory, salty, smoky, sweet. HP Sauce? Ketchup, FFS? That's so wrong. You want crisp lettuce, juicy tomato and a heavy hand with the mayo. I will convert to nitrate-free bacon. I will eat less bacon. Don't ask me to give it up, please.
    posted by theora55 at 9:44 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    There's probably some difference in meaning of the term "rasher" between British and American English.

    it's exactly the same meaning in America. I could not imagine eating two strips of bacon every day and I can't think of a single person, of any class or region, who does. That's not to say they aren't out there, but it is not common.
    posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    I could not imagine eating two strips of bacon every day and I can't think of a single person, of any class or region, who does.

    HELLO FROM SAVANNAH, GA!

    Can't give you numbers, but I definitely have a sense that one-twostrips a day is common. Oddly enough, I'd guess that some blue collars workers do that, along with some white collars, considering how quickly the bacon pan can disappear from the local whole foods by 8:30am or so.

    It's not like I'm in there everyday, but it's noticeable.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:51 AM on March 3, 2018 [12 favorites]


    I always thought "rasher" referred to the cut--the thin strip--not the portion size. At any rate, I don't know anyone who eats bacon every day, but I also can't think of a time that anyone only at two pieces at a time. Even the diner across the street gives you three when you order it.

    But I don't eat pig of any kind any more and have stopped missing bacon. I do miss hard cured sausages, though.
    posted by crush at 9:52 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    So, my 1st reaction was Oh, No, not tasty, tasty, bacon. My 2nd reaction is to rant. I think government has a place. That place includes doing research on food safety and protecting me and my family from carcinogens. Big Bacon is still going to make a ton of money. People buy food, lots of it, they're going to buy meat. It's extremely fucked up that the government will not take the lead and prioritize food safety. I'm so sick of the deregulation BS. I'm sick of Corporate Profit and politicians who are owned. I wish there was a country that welcomed immigrants who are geezers, because I'm really done with this. There's literally no excuse for this.
    posted by theora55 at 9:53 AM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    So that's why they add celery extract to the "nitrate free" bacon and cold cuts they sell in Canada. Because celery extract IS nitrates.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 10:01 AM on March 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


    I could not imagine eating two strips of bacon every day and I can't think of a single person, of any class or region, who does. That's not to say they aren't out there, but it is not common

    You might want to take a look at the menu of any diner in the US that serves breakfast, Miko. I doubt the majority of Americans are eating this sort of breakfast everyday, but literally millions are, so I’m a little curious about how you define “common”.
    posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:03 AM on March 3, 2018 [16 favorites]


    Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food – which are extremely rare – have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms.

    It is named after sausage, though... perhaps not as much a problem with modern processing techniques as it once was?

    I thought this was pretty good in the end, though. I wasn't aware that there were ways to dodge being truly nitrate-free while putting it on the label. I knew nitrates produce carcinogens in food but I also know high-temperature cooking and smoking produce PAH and I guess that put all that stuff in the same category for me - everybody knows it's unhealthy but without a way to rationally evaluate the risk people knowingly do all sorts of unhealthy things. But focusing a little more on something that could be addressed on the supply end, if there was will for it, helps move in a productive direction.
    posted by atoxyl at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2018


    The article made me buy bacon, or actually cubed pancetta. I haven't put it to use yet, though.
    I'm with Miko, though I think it's a bit optimistic to imagine no one eats two strips of bacon every day. Someone probably does. But for a lot of people, bacon is one of many lovely foodstuffs that one has now and then, maybe once a week, maybe less. As it says in the article, organic bacon where I live is free of nitrates and it is delicious. But I still buy the Italian pancetta with nitrate when I can find it because it's even more delicious.
    IMO, the problems with industrial pork are more the way they are farmed than the toxicity of the bacon, and I wonder if anyone has compared the health risks of industrial pork production, including overuse of antibiotics with the risks of using nitrates in curing. I eat pork rarely because I want it to be from ethically raised free range pigs, and that makes it a lot more expensive, which is how things were before the industrialization of agriculture. I don't think we should go back to subsistence farming, but I do think we should consider what farming is doing to us humans and our planet right now.
    posted by mumimor at 10:07 AM on March 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


    I live in New Jersey, the heartland of the diner. I don't eat breakfast at the diner every day.

    I doubt the majority of Americans are eating this sort of breakfast everyday

    That is exactly my point.
    posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    There are shockingly few things that “the majority of Americans” do everyday. If that’s the bar we need to cross to consider health impacts of common actions, there’s not going to be much of anything left on the table for consideration.
    posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:16 AM on March 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


    Two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast is pretty standard breakfast at anyone's house I know. And also what I get in any diner.

    If I make my own breakfast, I'll definitely eat 2-3 strips of bacon.

    I also add bacon to broccoli salad. And when I was in the US I would buy the pre cooked bacon to take to work so I could microwave an egg and toast an English muffin and have a breakfast sandwich.

    Bacon is a staple ingredient.
    posted by sio42 at 10:18 AM on March 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


    Also bacon with avocado on toast is AMAZING and also apparently not only does it prevent me from buying a house, it also will kill me.
    posted by sio42 at 10:19 AM on March 3, 2018 [17 favorites]


    So I know some people do eat bacon daily, though it is far from the majority breakfast. Maybe we can just refer to this graph; very few people in the US eat enough bacon in a year to add up to eating it every day, and this chart includes all bacon, not just breakfast bacon, so it includes pizza, sandwiches, salad toppings, etc.

    But debating who eats how much bacon from an anecdotal perspective obscures my larger point about the macro issues in the food system and how we report on those.
    posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on March 3, 2018 [9 favorites]


    Bacon is just the headliner; the threat is processed meats. The article mentions that ham sandwiches are incredibly popular for lunch in the uk. Lots of people eat meat at almost every meal - what's the probability that one of those three meals per day contains nitrates?
    posted by kaibutsu at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2018 [19 favorites]


    Miko, you are awesome.
    posted by JHarris at 10:30 AM on March 3, 2018


    New York City tried to regulate sugar. It didn't go so well.
    posted by Brocktoon at 10:37 AM on March 3, 2018


    I've not eaten meat intentionally since 1991 (actually I did get a tuna sandwich once during a low period when I thought I deserved *something* and it wasn't even that good), but when I accidentally get meat it's often bacon. That is, when I'm not careful enough to read every detail on a menu, or when I order "vegetable soup" and I'm trying not to make a fuss because I am out with people I don't know well, or whatnot... well. So much bacon.

    It's weird. I've ordered veggie burgers "classic" and gotten bacon on them. Little bits in a vegetable pasta. A house salad (not listed on the menu, cuz, well, who doesn't just LOVE bacon?!) I'm just saying, there might be more bacon around than you think. It's a really sneaky, apparently delicious, apparently very unhealthful, processed animal bit.
    posted by allthinky at 10:41 AM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


    Many breakfast sandwiches include a rasher of bacon. A bacon gouda sandwich at Starbucks, for instance, which is pretty popular as far as I can tell. Lots of people grab a breakfast sandwich every weekday.
    posted by Hildegarde at 10:44 AM on March 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


    As the Spouse and I like to say "Surprise! Bacon: A Chicago Dining Story"--we've even had surprise bacon in old fashioneds. The cocktail, not the doughnut.
    posted by crush at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2018 [13 favorites]


    I can see the post-ironic marketing campaign now:

    "Bacon: It's Lethally Awesome!"

    or,

    "Bacon: a taste to die for"
    posted by acb at 10:45 AM on March 3, 2018


    When I do get bacon I actually have tended to get a foofy organic brand, that uses celery extract as the nitrate source.

    The article isn't that clear - is celery extract also a danger, because it is a source of nitrate? Or is it only chemical nitrates that are the issue?
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:51 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    is celery extract also a danger, because it is a source of nitrate?

    Funny you should ask. I was just about to add:

    Oscar Meyer et al. recently revamped the meat products and replaced nitrites with celery juice, which does the same thing as nitrites but in the end turns out to be not a whole lot better.

    Portion control is everything. Better to go full bore Thomas Jefferson, who thought meat should be a condiment, not an aliment. Plus which - if you're eating bacon, the front of the line problem is fat, no?
    posted by BWA at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    The article isn't that clear - is celery extract also a danger, because it is a source of nitrate?

    A chemical reaction means that the extract generates nitrates. You end up with the same result but get to claim that the bacon is nitrate free as it's not an added ingredient.

    In other news, the willingness of US food regulators to sanction borderline fraud is one of the main reasons I hope that a sell-out US/UK trade deal doesn't occur.
    posted by jaduncan at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    Miko: Has the government stepped in to protect us from sugar? Which government and how?

    Here is what the British government is doing.

    Why single out the bacon?

    Bacon gets the focus, but other processed meats are discussed extensively. For reference, bacon is mentioned 114 times in the article, salami 26 times, ham 29 times, sausages 9 times, hotdogs 5 times, and several other types of processed meat are mentioned once or twice, e.g. prosciutto, pepperoni, and chorizo.

    Soooooo what you're saying ultimately is that when it comes to diet we have a broad public health issue which demands a total overhaul of food policy and access, improving access and affordability for a wider variety of foods, awareness about the qualities needed in a well-rounded and health-supporting diet, and the resources and time to purchase and prepare them?

    Bee Wilson is saying that the processed-meat industry is using carcinogenic substances in food production as a cost-cutting measure, which is the cause of many deaths in Britain.
    posted by Kattullus at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2018 [24 favorites]


    Huh. A decade or so ago, my father - who had multiple strokes, ended up dying of cancer, and loved quack treatments - insisted that "bacon is good for you, except for the nitrates." I was dubious about the claim, as I had learned to be dubious of all his health claims. Sounds like this one was closer to the truth than most, even if "good for you" might still be a stretch.
    posted by clawsoon at 12:16 PM on March 3, 2018


    Miko: Oh sure, if culture, history, and flavor didn't matter to people in any way.

    This seems an odd criticism to make, since the author makes exactly the point that you're making in the very next sentence.
    posted by clawsoon at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    I'd probably get farther with this essay if it wasn't so laced with snotty superiority -- "if you weren't such a stupid *primitive* you'd see why no one should eat processed meat!" As Miko said, we learned over our history all sorts of interesting things to do with food which may have started with practical goals but then we discovered they also made things delicious. We continue to ferment and pickle and age and salt and dry because we enjoy food, not because we are less enlightened than the essayist.
    posted by tavella at 12:33 PM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


    Miko: Well, let's get about that, then, rather than continuing to follow the pattern of the Western dietary handwringing press by isolating a single ingredient or foodstuff for demonization and over-extrapolating recommendations from narrowly structured studies that exclude almost everything about the real-world eating context and surrounding diet and lifestyle issues that render that diet and its effects understandable.

    And this is an even odder criticism to make, since single-ingredient public health regulations have had great success. Forcing producers to add vitamins A, C and D to foods has basically eliminated preventable blindness, scurvy, and rickets. The elimination of lead from cooking utensils has helped reduce mental retardation. If removing nitrates is an obvious and relatively easy win, why not do it? Why insist on solving everything before agreeing to solve one thing?
    posted by clawsoon at 12:40 PM on March 3, 2018 [28 favorites]


    Forcing producers to add vitamins A, C and D to foods has basically eliminated preventable blindness, scurvy, and rickets. The elimination of lead from cooking utensils has helped reduce mental retardation.
    Those things are not the same. Eliminating poisonous stuff is a good idea and we should work for it. Adding vitamins or whatever to processed food to compensate for their lack of nutrition is a disease in itself.
    posted by mumimor at 12:45 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    Miko: "it's exactly the same meaning in America. I could not imagine eating two strips of bacon every day and I can't think of a single person, of any class or region, who does. That's not to say they aren't out there, but it is not common."

    I don't know if this is a class or regional thing but 2-3 eggs, 2-4 strips bacon/sausage, 2 slices of toast, some sort of potato product, is an extremely common breakfast in my work/social group. I'd bet 70+% of breakfasts in work camps are variations (though admittedly there are a lot of people who skip breakfast at camp and camp residents are overwhelmingly male). Majority of fast food breakfasts also whether we are talking McD or a TacoTruck. It's what I have whenever someone else is cooking (I'm usually not together enough in the morning to manage more than granola and yogourt if fending for myself).
    posted by Mitheral at 12:46 PM on March 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


    I know someone who eats (turkey) bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. It’s one of the standard low-carb breakfasts.

    Has the government stepped in to protect us from sugar? Which government and how?

    Seattle has introduced a tax on sugary drinks. They are not the first municipality to do so.
    posted by bq at 12:52 PM on March 3, 2018


    mumimor: Adding vitamins or whatever to processed food to compensate for their lack of nutrition is a disease in itself.

    Putting vitamins A and D in flour is one of the best things we decided to do as a civilization, alongside iodine in salt. A huge amount of unnecessary misery has been averted as a result.
    posted by clawsoon at 12:59 PM on March 3, 2018 [22 favorites]


    Putting vitamins A and D in flour is one of the best things we decided to do as a civilization, alongside iodine in salt.
    Somehow the European civilization manages to survive without these alterations. (But if you want to, you can choose to buy them)
    posted by mumimor at 1:02 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    I've never gotten the bacon obsession. It's done half-jokingly here and more seriously elsewhere. But, it's, like...bacon, what's the big deal? I'll have it once or twice a year, and it's good when I have it, but, jesus, people get attached to the oddest things. Eating it daily is unimaginable from both a gustatory and health perspective. It's like being made to eat fucking McD's oil sponges hash browns on a daily basis.
    posted by the sobsister at 1:03 PM on March 3, 2018


    My mistake - B vitamins and folate went into flour, A and D into milk.
    posted by clawsoon at 1:03 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    My mistake - B vitamins and folate went into flour, A and D into milk.

    Well, I'm wrong too, in the EU, you can't add anything at all to flour or milk without labelling it as a different product. As in, flour enriched with anything has to be called a bread mix, even if you still have to add yeast and salt and whatever else to make a bread out of it.
    posted by mumimor at 1:07 PM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


    mumimor: Somehow the European civilization manages to survive without these alterations. (But if you want to, you can choose to buy them)

    What are your neural tube defect numbers like?
    posted by clawsoon at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    And this is an even odder criticism to make, since single-ingredient public health regulations have had great success.

    This is kind of restating my earlier comment, but more directly:

    I thought the single ingredient focus was by far the strong point of the essay. The idea that "processed meats" are bad in a mishmash of ways is the sort of problem that is easy to treat as too complex to do anything about. If you can pin even, say, half the risk on one ingredient, and propose ways to eliminate that ingredient, it makes one thing that could be done to improve public health really clear.

    The weakest point, I think, is that the author seems to have their own problem dealing with the broadness of the category of "processed meats" and keeping straight what is meant when citing statistics about their consumption.
    posted by atoxyl at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    (The most interesting rabbit trail this has led me down: "The major cause of rickets in the United States is a lack of appreciation that human milk contains very little if any vitamin D.")
    posted by clawsoon at 1:26 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    Has the government stepped in to protect us from sugar?

    The crackdown on sugar in the UK has resulted in the end of production for the beloved sugary beverage Irn-Bru.
    posted by scruss at 1:31 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    I just finished one of these 20 ounce Costco packages of bacon bits which I estimate took me over a year to consume, mixed into scrambled eggs and cottage cheese and sprinkled on turkey sandwiches (and even stored in the refrigerator looked a little bit off by the bottom of the bag). I don't consider that too bad, but the lion's share of my bacon consumption over the last 30+ years has been in Carl's Jr.'s Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, which at 500 calories each, with processed cheese, deep-fried onions and an almost-sickeningly-sweet barbecue sauce, have no doubt contributed to my mortality in more ways than one.
    posted by oneswellfoop at 2:10 PM on March 3, 2018


    Just another data point: I dated a guy right here in NYC who had eggs and three to four strips of bacon for breakfast every day. His diet was otherwise pretty good — low sugar and so forth. I dated another guy, also here, who works as a gaffer on various TV shows around the city, and catering always serves bacon for breakfast. So two strips of bacon a day doesn’t sound out of the ordinary at all to me.
    posted by holborne at 2:26 PM on March 3, 2018


    Anyone in the military on base likely has bacon or sausage every day of the week. Miko’s testimony is as anecdotal as anyone else’s.
    posted by furtive at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    Dare we mention this to the MeFites in Chicago?
    posted by Bella Donna at 3:23 PM on March 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


    It’s one of the standard low-carb breakfasts.

    Yeah, I would swear the Rise of Bacon went hand-in-hand with the rising popularity of low/no-carb/paleo diets, which seem to be all about protein and fat, which, ta-da, bacon. (Not saying this was an entirely coincidental thing, but I don't know that the Bacon Pushers revved up an entire diet/lifestyle on their own.) Just that besides the whole "bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns = breakfast" crowd there's a whole other group of folks possibly eating a lot of bacon yearly.
    posted by soundguy99 at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2018 [3 favorites]



    Maybe we can just refer to this graph; very few people in the US eat enough bacon in a year to add up to eating it every day, and this chart includes all bacon, not just breakfast bacon, so it includes pizza, sandwiches, salad toppings, etc.


    Miko, the graph is asking for a $49 payment to view.
    posted by daybeforetheday at 4:21 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    What I’d like to know: can you make bacon from an octopus?

    Maybe? Squid? Definitely. I've had it. Not sure if it's specifically a Phillipino thing, but you can find those smallish flat dried squid at most Asian markets. You fry it up like bacon and it's really good, but really really really salty.
    posted by sexyrobot at 4:34 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    [Let's move this a little bit away from Miko vs. the world.]
    posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 4:40 PM on March 3, 2018


    Huh, I had totally bought that bit about botulism. Infuriating.
    posted by lucidium at 5:15 PM on March 3, 2018


    Huh, I had totally bought that bit about botulism. Infuriating.

    I wasn't totally convinced by the argument she made about that - I'd need some more information, anyway. Botulism is absolutely historically associated with preserved meats. I would guess the reason it's more associated with vegetables now is that people are more likely to do shoddy home preservation of vegetables than meats. So the question is - if industrial meat processing is safer now than meat processing in the past, is that because of improved sterile technique or because the nitrates are working?
    posted by atoxyl at 5:36 PM on March 3, 2018


    I’m confused - my Whole Foods brand bacon says it just has salt, pork and sugar in it. (And that it’s nitrate free. No celery or anything weird.). It tastes like bacon and is really good.
    posted by rainydayfilms at 6:55 PM on March 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


    So I'm wondering how the death risk from the nitrates in bacon compares to the risk from the saturated fats and calories in bacon. If we're at the point of targeting carcinogens, wouldn't it be more effective to target saturated fats?

    As for regulating carcinogenic bacon, I doubt we'll see government regulation of the manufacturers. we'll probably see targeting of the consumer. For a start, it would be trivial to remove the ability to buy bacon and other processed meats from EBT and SNAP recipients. I'm sure the users of food stamps would be grateful for the government's concern with our health.

    We can go beyond that- with proper interrogation of credit and debit card purchases, any purchase of bacon or processed meat could trigger a notification of the user's insurance company. Excessive purchases of bacon could lead to the consumer being placed in a high-risk category by the insurance company, and notification of employer. Eventually, that can be extended to other high risk items such as alcohol, lard, sugar, white bread, candy...

    That sounds like a good start to a healthier lifestyle, right?
    posted by happyroach at 1:06 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


    in the EU, you can't add anything at all to flour or milk without labelling it as a different product ... Adding vitamins or whatever to processed food to compensate for their lack of nutrition is a disease in itself.

    That's not an attitude to fortification I've ever come across before, as I understand it the practice is a generally accepted public health advancement. To clear up some confusion, since I know flour has been fortified in the UK for quite some time:

    Fortified Flour and The Bread and Flour Regulations 2012

    By statute any white wheat flour that is milled in the UK has to have calcium carbonate, iron, thiamine/Vitamin B1 and Nicotinic acid added. After the war the government decided that white flour needed the same vitamins as wholemeal flour. For over 60 years we have added them to the flour.


    The new EU labelling laws over-rode the UK legislation which made putting the vitamins in the ingredients list optional so they are now shown on our labels. If you need unfortified / unenriched flour then use Wessex mill French flour (the French flour is milled in France where they do not have to add the vitamins) or any of the wholemeal flours. Spelt flours do not have it added either as they are not classified as wheat.

    The labelling on flour will probably look like this to show we have added additional nutrients into the flour.

    Ingredients:
    Fortified Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour,
    Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin and
    Thiamin)

    posted by glasseyes at 3:02 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


    Nitrates aren't used in curing bacon, panchetta, ham, or most whole meats. Nitrites, which are what are used for quick cures (smoked sausages, bacon, ham, etc) are what are used. Nitrates are used in curing salami and dry cured sausages, essentially raw meat cured over time.

    Nitrite is a naturally occurring thing. Celery (as previously mentioned) is chock full of it. So is spinach. A spinach salad has more nitrite than a pound of bacon. Hell, our saliva has nitrite in it. One key difference between "uncured*" bacon and standard bacon is the use of celery powder rather than standard nitrite. The thing about celery powder is that it's not nearly as precise as nitrite (or curing salts as they're known. This is a regular thing in every meat group I'm a part of online. Someone asks where to get celery powder, and people respond with the science pointing that celery powder is simply a less accurate path to achieving the same result. Pink salt/prague powder, cure#1, all names for the same thing, the same very carefully measured and regulated curing agent. The difference between standard bacon and recipes that use nitrite and "uncured" or "nitrate free" bacon is precision down to a parts per million limit.

    "Uncured bacon" and nitrate free bacon are scams. They aren't any healthier, they're literally exploiting a loophole. That, and seriously, you don't use nitrate to cure bacon. Nitrite. It's different. Works differently. Sounds similar, so people assume it's the same thing.

    And, because bacon:

    1kg pork belly
    22g salt
    22g brown sugar
    5g pink salt
    4.4g coarse ground black pepper
    25ml maple syrup

    Seal in an airtight bag (ziplock or vacuum pack) and refrigerate for a week to ten days. Flip it every day to distribute the cure. After week or ten days, rinse, then soak in fresh water for 15-30 minutes. Air dry uncovered on a rack (with a pan underneath, of course) in the fridge. Smoke between 75~90C until the meat reaches an internal temp of 65c. I use hickory, but apple and cherry work just fine.
    posted by Ghidorah at 5:36 AM on March 4, 2018 [8 favorites]


    This is a regular thing in every meat group I'm a part of online.

    I have questions.
    posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:39 AM on March 4, 2018 [7 favorites]


    On Facebook, The Salt Cured Pig, Sausage Debauchery, and Salumi, Charcuterie, and Wurst. All three have regular input from professionals in the industry, as well as a goodly amount of educational information. They've definitely helped me improve the stuff I make.
    posted by Ghidorah at 5:46 AM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


    . I would guess the reason it's more associated with vegetables now is that people are more likely to do shoddy home preservation of vegetables than meats.

    Yep. The bacteria that causes botulism grows best in low-acid, low oxygen environments. It can be a problem for people who do home canning of low-acid veggies. The CDC says pressure canning is the only safe method.
    posted by zarq at 6:01 AM on March 4, 2018


    > Nitrates aren't used in curing bacon [..] Nitrite. It's different. Works differently. Sounds similar, so people assume it's the same thing.

    The article suggests that both are used in curing bacon:
    The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite.
    Nitrite is a naturally occurring thing. Celery (as previously mentioned) is chock full of it. So is spinach. A spinach salad has more nitrite than a pound of bacon.

    I'm guessing you didn't read the article, because it addresses this very point:
    In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, “There’s nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!”

    But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be “carcinogenic even at a very low dose”.
    Hell, our saliva has nitrite in it.

    Yes, the article addresses that too:
    The writers often mention that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless “nutrition experts” who don’t know any better.
    posted by verstegan at 6:12 AM on March 4, 2018 [11 favorites]


    I did read the article, and a bunch like it. At the risk of sounding like a gun-nut who freaks out when people get terminology wrong, nitrite and nitrate are very, very different things, and have very different uses. When a writer can't keep those two separate when discussing the very specific uses of them, I start doubting their ability to really explain the situation. Unlike the gun-nuts and their screaming about jargon, my questioning of the author is about actually understanding the science they are discussing.

    I have used, and continue to use nitrate. It serves a food safety purpose. The offhanded dismissal in the article of botulism (it barely ever pops up anymore) is precisely because nitrite works. Smoking sausage without nitrite is monumentally dangerous, as botulism thrives in low oxygen environments and at the temperatures necessary to smoke a sausage. I know how the sausage is made, and frankly, I won't eat a smoked sausage that hasn't been seasoned with nitrite because botulism is a shitty way to die.

    As for nitrosamines, they occur when products treated with nitrite are burnt. Charred. Blackened. Not cooked, not crisped. Burnt. Even so, meat science (not the meat lobby, meat freaking scientists) has shown that the addition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to meats cured with nitrite reduces the production of nitrosamines.

    As for the parma ham discussed in the article, whole muscle (such as hams, bellies, and so on) curing is an entirely different animal, as it were, than dry cured sausage. It's certainly possible to cure a ham with salt and herbs over 18 months. Hanging a chorizo without nitrate, on the other hand, is more like playing Russian roulette.
    posted by Ghidorah at 6:31 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


    Sorry, forgot to add, while I do use nitrite, I don't use, and have no use for nitrate, simply because I don't have the equipment or space for curing and hanging meat to dry for months or years at a time. Nitrite is something you add to meat for short term cures. Nitrate, long term.
    posted by Ghidorah at 6:42 AM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


    The new EU labelling laws over-rode the UK legislation which made putting the vitamins in the ingredients list optional so they are now shown on our labels. If you need unfortified / unenriched flour then use Wessex mill French flour (the French flour is milled in France where they do not have to add the vitamins) or any of the wholemeal flours. Spelt flours do not have it added either as they are not classified as wheat.

    What you need is EUR-Lex - 02011R1169-20140219 — I guess it can be interpreted differently in different countries, and how you interpret it probably depends a lot on the food industry in each country, and what those industries are marketing internationally.
    I know here the industry is very concerned with "purity" as an indicator of quality because they are looking to Asian markets that demand unadulterated food (not least now with brexit, there is a wide-spread fear that sales in the UK will go way down). You may say, but, but, a lot of Asian food is full of chemicals. Yes, that is the point: rich people are looking for meat and dairy that are not. I'm not a fan of our food industry, but in this case they have aligned with the food safety activists.

    What are your neural tube defect numbers like?
    We have universal healthcare. If you are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant, you will get intensive care, not only from your GP, but also from the midwife-system that clicks in as soon as your doctor knows you are pregnant, and if there is any indication that you are at risk, you will get supplements from them. The numbers regarding children born are not comparable to US numbers because everyone is screened during their pregnancy and if parents choose abortion they can have it without delay.
    It's like adding flour to the water. You can do that, or you can decide to provide free dental care for all children. Different systems.
    posted by mumimor at 6:52 AM on March 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


    Mr. Sausage Debauch could have saved us a lot of time by doing his Q&A earlier.

    Back to the bacon. Does a normal crisp slice count as 'burnt' with respect to the carcinogen accounting? If not, then where are the two points of cancer risk coming from?
    posted by tirutiru at 7:47 AM on March 4, 2018


    mumimor: We have universal healthcare. If you are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant, you will get intensive care, not only from your GP, but also from the midwife-system that clicks in as soon as your doctor knows you are pregnant, and if there is any indication that you are at risk, you will get supplements from them. ... Different systems.

    We have universal healthcare, too. We still saw a dramatic decline in neural tube defects after mandatory fortification of cereal products with folate was instituted. The Germans, on the other hand, decided not to fortify and have had
    fifteen years in which the consumption of fruit and vegetables has not increased. Fifteen years in which women have not been given more information about the preventive consumption of folate as a vitamin. Fifteen years, and over 10,000 severely deformed children.
    Sometimes you've gotta go with what works, and in this case it's adulterating your food with folate that works. Universal healthcare and consumer education are essential, but they aren't quite up to this task.
    posted by clawsoon at 7:54 AM on March 4, 2018 [9 favorites]


    (Refusing to either prohibit or enforce the addition of specific ingredients has the result of harming the poor and uneducated more than the rich and well-educated. It is, in operation, harmful discrimination. It kills people who don't have the money or knowledge or desire to eat "correctly".)
    posted by clawsoon at 8:06 AM on March 4, 2018 [9 favorites]


    The Germans, on the other hand, decided not to fortify and have had
    fifteen years in which the consumption of fruit and vegetables has not increased. Fifteen years in which women have not been given more information about the preventive consumption of folate as a vitamin. Fifteen years, and over 10,000 severely deformed children.
    Sometimes you've gotta go with what works, and in this case it's adulterating your food with folate that works. Universal healthcare and consumer education are essential, but they aren't quite up to this task.


    From the article: One argument in favour of fortifying staple foods is that this is the only reliable way to reach financially weak or poorly educated sections of the population.
    This is the main argument, and it is a fair argument. Where I live, in Scandinavia, it was decided during the 1930's that pre- and postnatal care must reach out to and include the financially weak and poorly educated, so no one is left behind. There is literally no way you can be pregnant and not enrolled in the program*, and if anything, poorer and less educated mothers to be are allocated more hours of care and advice than the wealthy. This applies to immigrants and refugees as well. It's a different methodology and it works as well as adulterating the food. The Germans have some cracks in their system, which will probably change over time, but which is the result of a set of values that made sense for them at the time when they established it (and it was probably less of an issue before 1989).
    It seems to me that if there is an entire continent that has addressed this problem in a lot of different ways and still ends up with numbers mostly equivalent to those of the countries where food is adulterated, it is fair to say there might be other ways to reach the result.

    *Obviously, there is a tiny minority of women who only discover they are pregnant when they give birth. This is strange but true, and not statistically relevant.
    posted by mumimor at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2018 [5 favorites]


    The example of milk is good food for thought and sways my responses. Did anyone understand, from the article or elsewhere, what the consequences would be for completely removing the ingredient from meat processing? I understand it's (a) costlier because it would require more time and (b) there is an argument that it would change the flavor. The author talks about how her nitro-free bacon was OK, but provides little else in the way of tasting notes. I'm aware of historical home-based bacon production using a method that involves soaking in brine and then hanging to dry in a smokehouse. That produces good-tasting bacon that is recognizable as bacon; it will crisp in a skillet and tastes rich and meaty. However, I think that the smoking process contributes results in the presence of nitric oxide, too. So if the goal were to eliminate all nitrates-that-become-nitrites, would we truly be eliminating bacon entirely as we know it, ending up with only something like your basic sliced salt pork belly? OR would we just have a slower-to-produce, much more expensive bacon minus a small tang?
    posted by Miko at 8:40 AM on March 4, 2018


    Salt iodization is another excellent example of better-public-health-through-food-regulation.
    Worldwide, about two billion people — a third of the globe — get too little iodine, including hundreds of millions in India and China. Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation. Even moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points, shaving incalculable potential off a nation’s development.

    The most visible and severe effects — disabling goiters, cretinism and dwarfism — affect a tiny minority, usually in mountain villages. But 16 percent of the world’s people have at least mild goiter, a swollen thyroid gland in the neck.
    The article also has a great rundown of the effort to get iodisation in post-Soviet Kazhakstan... And the lobbying effort by iodine pill producers to keep it from happening.
    posted by kaibutsu at 9:50 AM on March 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


    Nitrite. It's different. Works differently.

    The claim made in the article was that nitrates work by turning into nitrites over time. (I know the difference chemically but I've been saying one or the other because it's easier. )

    But I appreciate the comment on botulism and sausages because that's the part I wasn't so sure about. The author seems concerned with ham, bacon, and the British breakfast sort of sausage - she does make a distinction from other varieties of sausage but due to the ambiguity of "processed meats" it's hard to keep track of what's being discussed.
    posted by atoxyl at 10:55 AM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


    I know, Jesus, have you seen the statistics for iodine deficiency in Europe? It’s fucking tragic.
    posted by bq at 11:06 AM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


    For talking about nitrosamines and burning meats, we're talking about black, charred bacon. Stuff that, ideally, you wouldn't eat, anyway. Even so, that's what the addition of ascorbic acid is for.

    And yes, nitrate, in long cured meats, slowly releases nitrite over time. But you can't really use nitrate in bacon, as bacon curing isn't that long of a process. You certainly wouldn't use nitrate in a smoked sausage, just as you wouldn't use nitrite in curing a pepperoni or salami. These are vital differences to the topic at hand, and since it is a pretty important topic (food safety) it's pretty important to know which we're talking about.

    Hell, technically *all* bacon is nitrate free. Labeling it as such is the same as putting "gluten free" on products that would never have any gluten in them in the first place.
    posted by Ghidorah at 4:12 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


    And Miko, I made bacon, once, without nitrite. It was brown to gray, and never became crispy. It was unappetizing, and lacked the flavor that bacon has. Literally the only difference was the lack of nitrite. It's something that, if you sold it as bacon, it wouldn't be received well. That's why the "uncured" bacon or the "no nitrites added" bacon are such bs. They're loaded with celery powder, which, at base, is a much less rigorously measured form of nitrite. If it's pink, as bacon should be, it's got nitrite in it, in one form or another.
    posted by Ghidorah at 4:18 PM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


    bq: I know, Jesus, have you seen the statistics for iodine deficiency in Europe? It’s fucking tragic.

    Not tragic, but not good, either. "The number of iodine-deficient countries in the world has decreased from 54 in 2003 to 47 in 2007 and 32 in 2011... of these 32 countries, 11 (34%) are in Europe, the largest number from any continent." Keep reading to find out which countries are having the problems...
    posted by clawsoon at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


    For talking about nitrosamines and burning meats, we're talking about black, charred bacon. Stuff that, ideally, you wouldn't eat, anyway. Even so, that's what the addition of ascorbic acid is for.

    If you're suggesting that nitrosamines don't form in high-nitrite foods that are acidic/cooked at high temperatures (in the normal range) I'm not sure that's supported by the evidence. But the ascorbic acid thing is worth noting because when I was looking this up earlier I found a meta-analysis on gastric cancer that suggested that while nitrite and nitrosamines intake is associated with increased risk, nitrate intake is associated with reduced risk. Why? Because the biggest sources of nitrates are green vegetables, which are otherwise protective! A higher ratio of nitrates to antioxidants is associated with increased risk.

    I am not, however, sure to what extent it has been determined whether adding ascorbate along with nitrites in preserving meat works the way it is supposed to in principle.
    posted by atoxyl at 8:27 PM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]




    I made bacon, once, without nitrite. It was brown to gray, and never became crispy. It was unappetizing, and lacked the flavor that bacon has.

    The only smoked, not-nitro'd bacon I am familiar with is at a historic site that made it as part of programming. While it didn't get potato-chip crisp like store bacon, the fatty rind got crispy enough cooked in a pan, and it wasn't gross (at least to me) It was mostly grey, though a little pinkish on the surfaces from smoke.

    I guess I'm wondering about it from an industrial production perspective - are there other processing treatments than can more closely approximate the taste, texture and appearance of contemporary commercial bacon?
    posted by Miko at 3:18 PM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


    To finish the thought: because if not, we're not going to be getting rid of industrial bacon as we know it. We could certainly ramp down the fetishism quite a bit, and be clearer about the health risks, but banning it completely if we can't just reformulate it will be a cultural non-starter.
    posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on March 6, 2018


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