Being realistic about bacon

I’m probably shooting myself in the foot drawing attention to ‘Yes, bacon really is killing us’. It’s a pretty damning article and, despite being extremely one-sided, is largely right. I must admit to having been a touch sniffy about the nitrite/carcinogen argument. The whole red and processed meat thing seemed so nebulous that, to me, the lifestyle and cocktail combination seemed far more credible – but you can’t get away from what are largely speaking proven facts. ​

I should have listened to our Scandinavian cousins rather than all the other counter arguments which, if the article in question is to be believed, are the result of intense lobbying by various US trade organisations.

Ten years ago, when the organic powers that be were debating whether to renew the derogation for allowing potassium nitrate and sodium nitrite (albeit at significantly lower than conventional levels) in cured meat products, I went to a seminar at the Campden Institute in Gloucestershire. Despite the subject being organic curing, apart from myself and someone from Eastbrook Farm, the other attendees were all from the big boys like Tulip, Kerry’s and Lucas and it quickly became apparent that their view was that you can’t cure meat without large amounts of nitrites. If anything, the permitted conventional levels (for dry cured) of 175 parts per million (ppm) were too low.

Their reasons were obvious; the more nitrites, the quicker the cure and the more money they could make. Time and time again, they used their sword of Damocles; clostridium botulinum (CB), to justify what would otherwise be considered to be excessive use of nitrites.

There has only been one CD fatality in thirty years linked to commercial food in the UK and that was from hazelnut yoghurt. It’s normally anaerobic – hence its association with canned food – so it’s not something automatically associated with bacon anyway.

We’ve been doing our ‘natural cure’ bacon for years. Because we use celery salt and parsley, I’ve never claimed it to be nitrite free, but when we had it analysed it contained 15% of the permitted levels so I can’t see why we shouldn’t achieve the same with all our bacon.

In a nutshell, the WHO study said that a bacon sandwich a day increased the risk of bowel cancer by 18% but, by my calculation, a weekly cooked breakfast or bacon sandwich using our ‘natural cure’ bacon would lower that to less than half of one percent.

I went off to M&S this morning and bought some ‘Naked Bacon’. It was OK but very different to what most people would think of as bacon – more like boiled ham but OK nevertheless. It’s also a high tech solution involving pumping (10% added water) and these, curiously, nitrite free plant extracts. You certainly couldn’t have fried an egg in the pan afterwards so for the time being, I’ll take the half of one percent for the egg. I’m not saying we wouldn’t try the ‘Naked Bacon’ route if we had the chance but it’s technology that simply isn’t available to minnows like us.

But rest assured, we do take these things seriously and will keep trying.