September 28, 2012

What If We’re at Peak Bacon?

Christine Grillo

Christine Grillo

Contributing Writer

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Admiral Adama knew how to cope with a dearth of resources

Did someone say worldwide bacon shortage?

We’ve experienced the worst drought this country has seen in fifty years, and the world is topsy-turvy. Acres of farmland have been abandoned, farmers are in trouble, corn prices are high, ethanol plants are closing, and people are losing their jobs. Milk is more expensive, meat is more expensive, and now cows are being fed candy and french fries because there’s not enough corn to go around. My children are jealous of cattle!

The icing on the cake? All this drought madness has led to a shortage of bacon. At the Center for a Livable Future, we are well versed in the dangers of looming shortages. We think hard about peak water, peak oil, and peak phosphorus, all of which could have seriously sobering effects on our food systems and public health. What if, instead of being a temporary shortage, the world supply of bacon is in decline for good?

With no bacon fat, how will we sauté all that chard we get from our community supported agriculture (CSA) shares? How will we wrap all those scallops if we run out of bacon? And what will become of all the ladies, like me, who keep stashes of dark chocolate in their desk drawers and have moved on from habanero-flavored chocolate and sea-salt-and-caramel chocolate, in favor of the more proteiny bacon-infused chocolate?

At the Center, we have great ideas about how to approach the diminishing of resources, even how to approach the daunting question of how to feed the world when the population hits 9 billion. (I call that situation “peak food,” but the phrase hasn’t caught on yet.) Our scientists advocate the creation of regional, sustainable food systems, a reduction in meat consumption, eating with the seasons, careful stewardship of our remaining resources, conservation tactics, and innovations and policies that would help farmers adopt agroecological practices.

But wait. Those things sound really hard and boring. Instead, couldn’t we just roll Battlestar Galactica–style and the scour the universe for uncharted planets that we could mine for ice and trillium?

It might be cheaper and easier to do things the agroecological way, but we don’t really have any data on that, do we? As we in the science biz love to say, further research is needed. What I do know is that trolling the galaxies for more resources would be a lot more fun than learning how to make pattypan squash palatable.

But we were talking about bacon. I suppose it’s possible that there isn’t, somewhere in this vast universe, a planet rich with pigs, where the pigs wouldn’t mind becoming our bacon and the life forms that care for them would let them go without a fight. That would be a wrinkle.

Maybe we can cast an eye toward other public health crises for some guidance about how to deal with limited supplies of products people want and need. Remember the H1N1 flu epidemic, and how the WHO got involved with vaccine and Tamiflu supplies? Remember World War II, how we rationed sugar and meat? I don’t either, but it seemed to work.

Maybe we have to ask ourselves how essential bacon is to human health. I mean, we all love to drink water, and we can’t seem to give it up. We all love cigarettes, too, right? So, are we talking about necessities, or addictions? And in which category lies our pork habit? I hope the great minds working at the intersection of public health and food systems can figure this one out before it’s too late—or I might have to eat a lettuce and tomato sandwich.


  1. Posted by Joanne

    nice to read some humor. Wasn’t bacon the key commodity leading to futures on the Chicago exchange, anticipating the demand for bacon when tomatoes ripened?

  2. Posted by Timmy Garrette

    Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon (also known as green bacon). Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months in cold air, or it may be boiled or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon is typically cooked before eating. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but may be cooked further before eating.’

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