Bacon and its Discontents

Another guest post by Joe Eaton

The Bacon People have finally gone too far. And they’ve done it in a really strange and offensive way.

This is not about bacon per se, and I have not turned vegetarian. Bacon has always been one of life’s great consolations for me. There are times when you really need a BLT. Sometimes a BLAT (BALT?), with avocado. Yes, I know about the supposed intelligence of the domestic pig. A few years ago, Marin Sun Farms, a local meat purveyor, claimed on their web site that their pigs all enjoyed fulfilled lives before becoming pork products, and I have always wondered what the exit interviews were like. I know about the environmental impact of hog farming. In college my historical geology class did a field trip to a Cenozoic marine formation downwind of a pig farm in eastern North Carolina, near the small town of Tar Heel, deep in Jesse Helms country. The stench was impressive, and I wasn’t even thinking about the runoff at the time. I understand it’s become much worse since then. But this is not about that either.

What it’s about is bacon-flavored bourbon.

I’m not sure exactly when the bacon-flavored thing—part of a broader hipster/techie bacon-fetishization trend–took off. It may have started with chocolate. Tried a bacon chocolate bar once; tasty, but it didn’t change my life. I was dimly aware of a bakeshop in Portland that featured bacon-maple doughnuts. These probably inspired the Oregon-based Rogue brewery’s bacon-maple beer, which came in a lurid Pepto-Bismol-pink bottle. It didn’t look like anything I would want to drink. Later came bacon-maple potato chips, another line I have yet to cross, and bacon-flavored soda syrup (Italian) and soda (American.)

The bourbon was on the shelves of my neighborhood BevMo a few months ago, perpetrated by some people in Nashville and labeled “Ol’ Major.” (If that brand name rings a dim literary/political bell for you, as it did for me, see below.) I was not tempted to purchase a bottle. Bacon and bourbon should be separate realms, what the late Stephen Jay Gould, referring to science and religion, called nonoverlapping magisteria. Such a thing had been foreshadowed by another deplorable trend, the vending of maple- and honey- and peach- and cinnamon- and cayenne-flavored bourbon. None of those substances belong in bourbon any more than bacon—or whatever artificial bacon flavoring agent the Ol’ Major folks use—does.

It took me a while to seek out the manufacturers’ web site (google it yourself; I’m not sending them any more traffic). The first thing I encountered there was a screen that said “’murica:1…terrorists:0.” Huh? Another page offers bacon bourbon cocktail recipes, and there alongside the Bacon Sour, the Bacon Bloody Mary, and Babe’s Julep, is a drink called the Commie Crippler. Who says “commie” anymore? The drink, combining Ol’ Major with triple sec and licorice liqueur, might be fatal to a diabetic Marxist. Seems like an odd choice of nomenclature, though. But maybe this stuff is supposed to be a weapon in the Kulturkampf between militant Islam and the Christian West. Are these folks conflating communists and Islamists, and do they really think that patriot ‘muricans can strike back against ISIS by consuming their product? A drink for the Age of Trump? Whatever, I ain’t buying it.

So why did “Ol’ Major” sound familiar? Remember Animal Farm? Remember the porcine Karl Marx figure who lays the ideological foundation for the revolt of the animals, but dies before it comes to pass (and the other pigs display his skull on a pole as a sacred relic)? Old Major, with a terminal “d.”

There is nothing on the web site to suggest that bacon-flavored bourbon’s brand name was a conscious Orwell reference. (If anyone wants to organize a Society To Save George Orwell From His Friends, I’m in. Yes, I’m talking about you, Hitchens, and de mortuis nil nisi bonum my ass.) But maybe they thought they were posthumously recruiting the author of Homage to Catalonia, Animal Farm, and 1984 into their boozy crusade. I’m sure he’s been spinning in his grave for years, and a little more angular momentum won’t make that much of a difference.

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