IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bacon — our national food crush

Bacon is once more our true, national food crush, spanning all ages, all cultures, and all meals. Nutritionists are horrified, but bacon chic is sizzling. Why is it so chic?
Image: KFC's new Double Down sandwich.
KFC's new Double Down sandwich contains all the fat you should have in a day, says nutritionist Susan D. Moores.KFC
/ Source: contributor

Bacon is once more our true, national food crush, spanning all ages, all cultures and all meals. It binds us in its aromatic allure — and maybe in its outlaw luster. Like a freedom fighter emerging from an underground bunker, the smoky strips of crispy bliss somehow survived the rise and reign of the cholesterol cops.

It’s primal. It’s sublime. It’s bacon. And it’s bigger than ever, baby.

How do we know? We give you the KFC Double Down, two slabs of fried chicken and melted cheese all squeezed around a sacred centerpiece — two pieces of bacon. The breadless sandwich that some are calling “angina on a plate” debuts at KFC restaurants on Monday. If customers order the Original Recipe variety, their Double Down will pack 540 calories, 32 grams of fat and 1,380 milligrams of sodium, according to KFC.

This is will not make Michelle Obama very happy.

But it’s already got celebrity chef Paula Deen giggling with glee.

“There’s no bun? Oh, shut up! I can’t wait to try it!” Deen said Tuesday while being driven between launch events for her book, “Paula Deen’s Savannah Style.”  “We may have to go to the closest KFC now!

“We love our bacon,” added Deen, who serves up her southern-fried dishes and personality on the Food Network’s “Paula’s Home Cooking.” “Americans love their bacon.”

Of course, the timing of KFC’s guilty pleasure is giving chest pains and meat sweats to nutritionists. As we’re simultaneously advised and chided how and what to eat to protect our arteries, the Double Down stares down anti-obesity campaigners like the First Lady — and does it with a bold, greasy smirk.

“Monstrosity is a great word for it,” said Phil Lempert, a food-marketing expert known as “The Supermarket Guru.” “There are no nutritional benefits to this ... When you do something outrageous — whether it’s a $100 hamburger or $1,000 drink that has bits of gold in it — you get PR. You get people to write about it, to talk about it.”

According to a KFC spokesman, the sandwich was very popular in tests. "Obviously it’s a unique sandwich,” KFC spokesman Rick Maynard told last week.

Meanwhile, some nutritionists suspect the Double Down is more fat-laden than KFC claims. Lempert plugged the sandwich’s listed weight (241 grams) and ingredients into a calorie-calculation program. While he acknowledged an accurate assessment is “tough without seeing one live,” his program estimated the bunless wonder is laced with 836 calories.

Certainly, much of the food fight over the KFC creation is fueled by what lies beneath the chicken and cheese. This is about bacon. And in many ways, this is bacon’s day.

In harsh economic times, lower-cost ingredients are typically added to restaurant menus and grocery lists. In a January column on his Supermarket Guru Web site, Lempert reported that between 2005 and 2009, the number of bacon-topped burgers at 580 restaurants (measured by Mintel Reports) rose by about 35 percent.

‘It's going right to your arteries’
But those are just the typical offerings.

A bacon zeitgeist has sprouted. You can sample bacon maple lattes, $14 vodka cocktails with bacon, caffeinated bacon lollipops, deep-fried bacon with gravy, bacon-flavored chocolate, and a chicken stuffed inside a duck that’s crammed into a turkey — all encased by bacon and called a “turbaconducken.” On May 8, San Francisco is hosting its second annual “BaconCamp,” billed as “an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment about bacon.”

The bacon bonanza is joined by the new best-selling Atkins diet book, a potential protein overload in our diets that dismays New York nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix.

“It’s going right to your arteries,” says Taub-Dix, R.D., a contributor. “I am definitely not happy about how much bacon is used on the popular cooking shows. They practically put bacon in everything but the dessert."

But is it OK to keep some bacon in our diets?

“It all boils down to: ‘How much?’,” says nutritionist Susan Moores, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “As a flavoring and ingredient, it’s wonderful. As a diet mainstay, not so much.”

No doubt, bacon chic is sizzling. At the Bacon Today blog, which offers “daily updates on the world of sweet, sweet bacon,” shoppers can buy belts and pillows that look like bacon, plus “gummy bacon,” bacon-flavored dental floss and lip balm.

On YouTube, singer Junior Redwood strums the love ballad, “Mmm Bacon” and the line: “You’re in my heart and you clog my veins. Someday you’ll cause me some sweet chest pains.”

Bacon may be clogging American bloodstreams, but it’s part of the American soul, Deen said.

A bacon-free diet is like “going through life without seeing the Eiffel tower,” Deen said, “or without ever skinny-dipping under a full moon.”

“The smell of bacon cooking is in everybody’s memory,” she added. “For years, I’ve wanted to come up with a room deodorizer that’s the scent of bacon, onions and bell peppers cooking on the stove. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?”

Too late, Paula. At Bacon Today, shoppers already can purchase — for $4.95 — air fresheners that look and smell like what bacon fanatics call “the candy of meats.”