How Bacon Changed My Life

It’s been a while since I went to summer camp, but last week I was lucky enough to attend Zingerman’s Camp Bacon. Yup, you read that right, Camp BACON! Now before you start imagining bacon-singalongs, bacon-wrapped marshmallows cooked over the campfire or arts-and-crafts classes where we wove bacon bracelets, this was a different sort of “camp”. On a Saturday in mid-June, over 50 bacon enthusiasts attended presentations by some of the country’s best bacon-makers, a discussion on bacon history by Jan Longone from the Longone Culinary Archive at the UM Library, several bacon-inspired poetry readings, a hands-on pancetta workshop, and, of course, a bacon cooking demo (that’s where I came in).  By all accounts, the daylong camp was a huge success (and a whole lot of fun for campers and counselors both!). Word is the fine folks at Zingerman’s are already talking about holding Camp Bacon again next year. Here’s where you can find out more. http://www.zingermanscampbacon.com/

Getting serious about bacon (photo by Angela J. Cesere for The Washington Post)

Getting serious about bacon (photo by Angela J. Cesere for The Washington Post)

In the meantime, in preparing for my role as a Camp Bacon counselor, I wrote a couple paragraphs on “How Bacon Changed My Life”. Here they are:

I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes household. Our Sunday night suppers of grilled cheese and tomato soup (yes, it was Campbell’s Cream of…) were the only meatless dinners of the week (unless, of course, you count the frozen fish sticks we ate on Friday nights). Being a rebellious teenager by nature, it only made sense that I would declare myself a vegetarian the minute I left for college in the late 70’s. By sophomore year, my friends and I moved out of the dorms, and filled our kitchen with every sort of bulk grain, legume and pulse we could find at the local food co-op. We taught ourselves to transform these into meals by studying the pages of The Vegetarian Epicure, Laurel’s Kitchen and Moosewood. Our dinners often left a lot to be desired in terms of flavor and finesse, but we felt righteous and proud and stuck with it.

By the time I graduated, I determined that vegetarianism had become a part of who I was. Unfortunately, beyond this conviction to a meatless future, I had very little notion of what else I might do with my life, and so I did the only thing I could think of—I moved back into my parents’ house. Not long after, I woke one Sunday morning (after being out way too late the night before no doubt) to the unmistakable smell of frying bacon. My instincts took over and, before I could remind myself that bacon was meat and that I didn’t eat meat, I was down the stairs, slouched on a kitchen stool and ready to tuck into a heap of scrambled eggs flanked by a stack of perfectly crisped bacon strips (Mom had burnt the ends of a few strips just the way I used to like them; now I prefer my bacon less crisp, but that’s a subject for another post). And just like that, my conviction to vegetarianism vanished. No one said a word (I’m guessing my parents hadn’t taken the whole thing seriously in the first place), and I barely blinked. Looking back, I am grateful to my mother and that plate of bacon for re-opening my culinary horizons. It wasn’t long after that morning that I took a kitchen job at a steakhouse and was on my way to a career in the kitchen and at the table cooking and eating all manner of meat, fowl, fish, and even a few legumes and pulses along the way.

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