I actually am a fan of Adam Ruins Everything, but from time to time holy crap does he get some stuff amazingly wrong. Often that happens to be on politically charged issues, and this being a non-political blog I will not flog him for those faults here. I will however nail him for crapping on bacon, which he did in his season premiere that I just watched today.
In “Adam Ruins a Plate of Nachos”, Adam Conover discusses that:
- Drug cartels have infiltrated the Mexican avocado market, although not buying avocados from Mexico might actually be worse for the farmers than buying them. (Weird.)
- Bacon is mainly so popular today because of a marketing campaign in the ’80s. Also bacon, and indeed all processed meats, causes an increased risk of cancer.
- Corn is in basically everything and it’s a freaking mess; we should grow less of it and have better crop diversity.
I have no beef with the avocado or corn issues, but I immediately pegged the bacon cancer thing as complete BS because I’ve covered it twice on this blog before.
Yep, Adam’s writers used the same “research” as a source that I’ve shat upon repeatedly for being junk science. Remember, the people pushing this scare say that processed meats are bad for you based solely on comparing health data from different countries and extrapolating ideas based on those countries’ diets. (Also possibly some bogus research about nitrates, but that’s a whole other discussion.)
There is no such thing as a meaningful nutritional study that doesn’t rigorously monitor all participants and account for cheating. Period, full stop, end of discussion. Anything else will give you unreliable data tainted with confounding variables. Comparing what countries eat and what their incidence of given health outcomes are is beyond ridiculous. Comparing even within a country or a group is pretty meaningless as well, unless you have strict controls and have very large sample groups and can account for pretty much all other potential variables.
But you can’t control for any of those variables. People with different eating habits have other different habits as well. Compare people who eat a pound of bacon in six months vs. a pound every two weeks and you’ll undoubtedly see differences in other aspects of their lives; like for instance, one group may exercise more than the other, one might tend to consume more dairy, one might correlate to more dangerous jobs. I’m serious; there are potentially thousands of correlations, if not millions. There’s just no way to handle them all.
Adam’s just a comedian, but the researchers on his show should know these things. This is junk science at its worst and it’s a farce.
Now let’s talk about the bacon craze. According to his show and therefore the sources he used, it all started when the low-fat craze that hit its stride in the ’80s hit pork producers hard. (He did not mention that they started breeding leaner pigs in response to the outcry for lower-fat food, which was a bad thing for pork in general. As Alton Brown has noted, pork chop recipes that used to work well in the ’50s don’t work anymore because the meat is too lean now, so it is less flavorful and cooks differently.) As the story goes, they couldn’t figure out how to sell all that pork belly. A major producer complained to his friend who ran Hardee’s, and they started pushing stuff with bacon. From there the snowball kept rolling to become the bacon mania of today!
Does that sound like BS to you? If it doesn’t, you need professional help. No, I don’t mean to deny that meeting happened or that the pork industry had a problem on its hands with the misguided nutritional “wisdom” of yesteryear. But is that the real reason for bacon becoming an Internet sensation? No.
Look, I knew I liked bacon back before the ’80s were a thing. Bacon was freaking awesome. My family didn’t get fast food out too often, but on occasion we would, and on even rarer occasions I could eat the big bacon burger at Wendy’s. (Gads I miss that. The bacon is better nowadays but the Baconator compares pitifully to the big bacon burger.) I was eating those things in the mid-’80s at least, well before there was any kind of massive push to get people to eat more bacon. And mind you it was ages before McDonald’s offered bacon as a regular menu staple; they’d occasionally have bacon cheeseburgers as a special item only. If the big marketing push Adam spoke of had been successful, why were bacon burgers at McDonald’s a rare event?
It’s patently obvious why bacon blew up in recent years, for one simple reason: memes.
Bacon is delicious. We all know it. It didn’t suddenly become more popular in the ’80s because the pork industry wished it so. They may have actively sought out new ways to get it into our mouths but bacon didn’t suddenly become more awesome because of that; it was already awesome. Enter the Internet era, and especially the social media era, when people got a quick influx of views, and therefore influence and therefore ad dollars, by coming up with catchy memes. Bacon was one of those things a lot of people could quickly agree on. A meme praising bacon, much like a meme praising coffee or wine or motherhood or dogs, was an easy win.
Has bacon mania gone overboard? Sure, I guess. There are plenty of bacon-flavored products out there and a lot of them are ridiculous. (Please allow me a momentary digression to mention J&D’s Bacon Salt. It contains no bacon and does not taste like bacon. It tastes like barbecue seasoning. Screw that. 0/10 would not buy again.) But hey, who does it hurt?
I’m gonna keep watching Adam Ruins Everything; I do enjoy the show, and there’s a lot to learn from it even when he’s wrong. But when the show gets it wrong, hoo boy does it ever. As even the show itself reminds us from time to time, take even what they say with a grain of salt because they’re as imperfect as the rest of us.