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Peterson: Bringing home the bacon, or a facsimile of it

It started happening about four months ago: I would be reading the paper in the kitchen, and I would be overcome by the smell of bacon.

Bacon is not my meat of choice for breakfast. It’s sausage. Links or patties. With eggs and toast and potatoes. But it’s not a breakfast I have very often. I have oatmeal – whole rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, topped with a sliced apple or banana – far more often.

Ordinarily, it is Pop Tarts, which are quick and clean, unhealthy and pretty American, but, really, I’m getting tired of them. It’s been a couple of years.

But where was this bacon scent coming from? As a family, we aren’t bacon eaters. In just the past five years, I would guess that we have had bacon once. And that might be an exaggeration.

If we ate a lot of bacon, I could understand how the scent could penetrate the walls and cupboards, kind of like my clothes smelled after working at shift at the Country Kitchen restaurant off the Coralville, Iowa, interchange of Interstate 80 in the late 1970s.

I had quit the University of Iowa to change careers before my career began. I was going to be a restaurateur. I landed a job as an assistant manager at Country Kitchen, a 24-hour restaurant that was guaranteed to be busy with interstate travelers. Someday, I’d have my own restaurant.

I lasted about three months before I regained my senses and returned to school. As assistant manager, you weren’t so much the assistant to the manager as you were assistant to everyone else who worked at the restaurant, from dishwashers to waitresses, cooks, cleaners and cashiers. If a job needed to be done and no one else would do it, the assistant manager would do it. On any of the three shifts that rotated, so sleep was never a sure bet.

It was pretty much an awful job, and it made me realize that I did not want to be a restaurateur. I kept it when I returned to school to help pay for what loans and grants didn’t. And if all else fails, I know I can do most any job in a restaurant on par with Country Kitchen, which is not a white-linen-napkin joint. It’s semifast, franchise food.

All the while, I smelled of bacon, a scent that penetrates like few foods.

And when I started smelling it four months ago, it made me hungry for bacon, but not to the point that I would go out and buy a slab. It’s not like we had bacon air fresheners, or pig potpourri or fatback candles, which would be possible given the amount of fat that bacon has.

I mentioned this to my wife, and a few weeks later, we had bacon in our refrigerator. My wife is very thoughtful, but I really wasn’t hinting around. It was just an odd thing to smell. Maybe it was a weird haunting.

Bacon has changed since my days at Country Kitchen. Today, the animal does not have to be a hog. Apparently, turkeys have been so fattened that they have developed bellies from which butchers slice bacon, although I have not noticed it on the traditional baking turkeys, which I have had more frequently than bacon in the past five years.

But turkey is used as a semihealthy substitute for foods that aren’t so good for you, such as bacon from a hog, which has a high fat content and plenty of sodium. Turkey bacon has less fat, and they apparently don’t soak it in a salt brine to cure it, because it has fairly little sodium. Or at least a serving does, which is one piece of bacon. One piece? Not three?

It’s not like they are trying to pull a fast one, putting “turkey” in fine print. No, it’s proudly labeled “Turkey Bacon” in large type, and if you read the nutrition label, it says in capital letters, “CONTAINS NO PORK.” And if you read the label, you might be safe to assume that turkeys don’t have bellies because the ingredients include “mechanically separated turkey,” as well as plain “turkey,” a distinction I’m not sure I want to know the meaning of, but it seems like the butcher is cut out of process.

With bacon in the refrigerator, even turkey bacon, I couldn’t help but try, and I know from long-ago experience – no, not at Country Kitchen – you can microwave bacon, which cuts down on the grease splatters and flash fires, although the directions are pretty clear about microwaving: “Not recommended for best results.”

As if turkey bacon is going to give best results no matter how it is cooked.

But it did give entirely adequate results, satisfying that urge brought on by the bacon scent that had somehow been brought home.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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