How Did Bacon Become A Breakfast Staple?

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Bacon is a staple ingredient in most breakfast menus. But how did it make its way to our plate semiexclusively in the AM?

Bacon has a reputation as a classic breakfast food, but why? It’s greasy, fatty, and high in sodium — not quite the pinnacle of a ‘healthy breakfast’. Well, just like cereal’s rise to breakfast stardom thanks to the magic of PR and advertising, bacon has a similar success story.

Bacon’s Rise To Fame

Its reputation as a quintessential breakfast food is attributed to PR consultant Edward Bernays back in the 1920s. Bernays is often touted as “the father of public relations”. Some of his other PR successes include branding cigarettes as ‘Torches of Freedom’ to promote smoking to women, and working with a fruit company to promote bananas that eventually led to helping the CIA overthrow the Guatemalan president in 1954.

Part of Bernays’ success comes from none other than his uncle, Sigmund Freud. Freud is known for his work in psychology and founding the field of psychoanalysis and the unconscious mind. And, yes, the mummy issues.

Bernays used a lot of this psychological research to underpin his work in PR, linking products to feelings or ideas, and appealing to people’s emotions or subconscious. And that’s what he did when he was hired by the Beech-Nut Packing Company to increase consumer demand for bacon.

The PR Strategy Behind Bacon

In the early 1900s, Kellogg coined the whole ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’. To help sell their now-famous cereal, they painted a ‘healthy breakfast’ as a moral and religious issue. 

Bernays took that concept and really ran with itHe spoke to a doctor who suggested that a heavier breakfast would be healthier because the body loses energy during the night. Then he asked that doctor to find 5000 other doctors who agreed. He then circulated this information in newspapers around the US. And a lot of these doctors mentioned bacon and eggs as part of this hearty breakfast. 

And with that, Bernay’s job was done. He’d successfully promoted bacon and pioneered the PR tactic of recruiting dodgy third-party experts to sell things that ‘4 out of 5 doctors recommend’. 

How Bacon Became A Staple In Australia

With Kelloggs and Sanitarium in full operation in 1920s Australia, the same moralistic and religious breakfast messaging was at work here. But it may have taken a bit more time for the full impact of Bernays’ bacon star-making to be felt in Australia because it took time for us to relax about our food identity.

British food culture has always been a huge influence in Australia. In the UK, bacon had become a staple working class breakfast by the 1840s and the full English breakfast was a source of national identity. Australians were already eating bacon to some extent, but the PR success of bacon in the US eventually made its way over as well.

American food culture came to Australia in a lot of different ways. Even our Greek cafes are credited with Americanising our eating habits at the very start of the twentieth century.

Bernays’ PR tactics in the 1920s are the same ones that allowed bacon to be championed and re-invented as a health food by turbo protein diet fads like Atkins, paleo and keto. There’s also a persistent trend in advertising to use ‘the past’ to sell things. This classic nostalgia play has helped to reinforce bacon’s place on the breakfast menu.

Why Is Bacon So Delicious?

But some of the success has to go to bacon itself. According to food scientist Guy Crosby, bacony goodness comes down to the salts used for curing, its smoky flavour, the amount of fat, and the holy grail Maillard reaction that comes from browning meat.

We can only wonder what would’ve happened if Edward Bernays was asked to promote something else instead. In the end, I count myself lucky that bacon is always on the brunch menu.