You know what’s awesome about quarantine? Being a fucking weirdo and pondering deep thoughts. Because I have the mind of a 3rd grader, my brain settled on what? Not world peace or something worth a shit: bacon packaging.
Yes, I just wrote almost a thousand words dedicated to bacon and bacon packaging. Lockup is weird, don’t look for logic here. You ain’t gonna find any.
But, for real. Think about holding stuff, the tactile experience:
Holding a vinyl record is an experience. It's the best medium for real music nerds. Full stop.
It’s the jacket, the material weight, and the label. There are liner notes. You can study the artwork. There are gatefolds, sometimes secret goodies like stickers or posters. Vinyl is an experience. It confronts the senses while giving you exactly what you wanted.
There’s a reason people have collections in the thousands or whole rooms in their houses dedicated to ultra-specific, hard to find records. This is a hobby that only a true nerd would even consider spending hundreds of dollars to own a label misprint, while going deep in online discussion forums over a “lost” Japanese pressing from 1974 where a guy’s lip slips in the part of a jazz solo, which all of the other geeks lose their shit. It’s a holistic experience.
On the polar opposite side of the spectrum is a fiend that’s universally loathed, a packaging that’s absolutely awful. Despite being a cornerstone of American culinary culture.
Yep. Bacon packaging. Bacon is universally loved so much that there are dude’s whose whole personality revolves around talking about bacon, about drinking bacon-flavored whiskey, and starting blogs about smoke points and flavor profiles. And yet, when you hit the local grocery store, what horror show is waiting for you? Bacon. It’s without a doubt the worst packaging above such flaccid runners up like bag cereal, the El Cheapo bread that uses the ultra-thin plastic with the twist tie that falls apart immediately, the off-brand pickles who’s lid never closes just right.
Give us the grease
Look, I’m fat. If you’ve ever seen me, it’s clear I’m not one to say “no thanks” to a BLT. Me and the double bacon cheeseburger are on a first-name basis. Bacon is probably the world’s most potent food. Who doesn’t love munching down into the greasy, fatty underbelly of everyone’s favorite barnyard buddy? Bacon creates unity, it kicks everything it touches from bland missionary into the nasty good stuff with a safe word.
A shitty turkey sandwich becomes an edible one thanks to a little magical swine flesh. I am a straight hoe for bacon.
The fact that bacon is so seductive and ruins vegan’s lives is hilarious. But the packaging, ugh. How have only two companies innovated on one of the world’s best-selling grocery store items that is produced to the consumer?
The “ribbed for her pleasure” shingle look feels odd. The plastic is super thin, and the good stuff is hidden by a gigantic logo. If you’re a food nerd like me, or care about what you’re eating, you want to see the fat, the striping, all of the goodness that’ll snap, crackle, and pop once it hits the cast iron. But, no.
Apparently, there was a time when people outside of chefs didn’t know one primary cooking rule: fat equals flavor. And because bacon is a fatty meat, bacon producers did their best to hide anything that could turn a potential sale off, so some wizards came up with the notion of “shingle packaging.” Somehow, only showing the lean parts was attractive. Don’t ask me, I was raised in an era to know better. This became the norm, and all of a sudden, bacon was sold in this hidden in plain sight style.
Apparently, the FDA stepped in and was like, “you know some common sense would suggest that a little fat in your diet isn’t the worst thing.” The FDA mandated that there be a little window on the back of the packaging so the buyer can see what they’re actually getting rather than more slick marketing.
It’s everything, not just the shingles. It’s that waxy, greasy wet piece of paper that when you touch it, it’s almost like stepping in an unexpected puddle. Your fingers are greasy for a few seconds longer than what’s actually comfortable. And then once you pull a few strips out, that’s a wrap. The shitty plastic is done. You can’t leave it open. You need to immediately stick it in a Ziplock. If not, that moist goodness will go to rot faster than the fat guy in Day of the Dead.
BLT = OMFG
There are a few outliers in the world of bacon. Sure, you can grab the fresh stuff from your upscale spots, which is always recommended, but we ain’t all flush with that “high dollar” butcher paper bacon, which ironically has to go into the goddamn Ziplock, too.
Back in the middle-class zone, a few innovative companies like H-E-B, aka the most fabulous grocery store on earth, have stepped up their bacon packaging game. Smithfield has adopted “the stack” rather than the ubiquitous shingle. And hopefully, others are following suit.
The stack is more efficient because the bacon is arranged in a column, it’s easier to pull a few slices if you need to cut them up, and you can RESEAL IT. Not asking for miracles, but really, we need to look at how we’re packaging our foods. I’m looking at you terrible, terrible hot dog packaging. I can control my house with an iPhone. I don’t need hot dog water getting up in my special meat drawer getting all stanky and gross.
Robert Dean is a journalist living down in Austin, Texas. His work has been featured in Forbes, Consequence of Sound, Austin American-Statesman, Mic, Fatherly, Daily Grindhouse, and Farce the Music, to name a few. He's also been on CNN and NPR.