Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bacon vs. Bacon

Following on my comparison of breakfast cereals, I thought it might be interesting to discuss the other regular feature of  the breakfast table: bacon. Of course, in their never-ending quest to assert their individuality, this means something quite different to each girl.
For the OG, bacon means bacon--cured and smoked pork belly, rendered crisp in the microwave and served unadorned. For the BG, bacon means MorningStar vegetarian bacon strips, made from egg whites and soy protein and corn starch.

[Image Not Available] - <strong><em>MorningStar Farms®</em></strong> Veggie Bacon Strips

Bacon, while a classic component of the all-American breakfast, is also vilified as high in fat, full of sodium nitrite and bereft of nutritional value. It is arguably the avatar of the unhealthy diet, and has given rise to "bacon mania" a backlash against the food police and an embracing of the high fat, low carbohydrate lifestyle.

Vegetarian bacon on the other hand, is billed as a healthy alternative, delivering all of the great taste with none of the guilt or health risks associated with the porcine alternative.

Simple, right? Well, wait a minute. The vegetarian bacon comes from the Kellogg laboratories in Battle Creek, and contains, among other things,  
I have no idea what this means, but I am suspicious nonetheless. Somewhere, I recall Michael Pollan saying that a useful heuristic for everyday eating is to avoid things that your grandmother would not recognize as food (also that you should beware of products that make health claims). I can see Grandma Anna's face contemplating a plate of vegetarian bacon: "My goodness. Where do they get the energy? I'll have some toast, lover."

And what about the numbers? Two slices of Oscar Mayer bacon have 70 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein and 260 mg of  sodium. The veggie version has 60 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein and 230 mg of sodium.

So they are calorically indistinguishable, and the pork bellies have slightly more fat and sodium, but twice the protein. They also have 15 mg of cholesterol, and contain sodium nitrite, which has been loosely linked with increased risk of heart disease.

Then there's the taste. I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't like the taste of bacon. On the other hand, the vegetarian version has been described in ways ranging from "not unpalatable" to "really, really bad." Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. So while I don't think there's a nutritional reason to eschew the pig, I'm glad that the BG has something that is at least vaguely reminiscent of something that she used to love, but for philosophical reasons, will not eat. And I'm happy to get some protein into the OG in the morning via a vehicle that has the added benefit of being delicious.

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