Thursday, June 14, 2012

Campaign summer debate: the bacon sundae -- June 14, 2012 column


My fellow Americans, we meet today to note a milestone in American food history.

The wizards who brought us monster sandwiches, pizza crusts stuffed with pasta, and tubs of soda big enough for regattas are out with a new temptation. They’ve married sweet and salty, cream and crunch, fat and fatter. It’s the bacon sundae, brought to you by Burger King as part of its summertime menu.

Most of us were blissfully unaware that ice cream and bacon even knew each other, let alone that they enjoy a close personal relationship and have moved in together.

The BK bacon sundae is soft-serve vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and chocolate fudge, sprinkled with bacon crumbles, and topped with an insouciant thick strip of hardwood-smoked bacon. It costs 510 calories, 18 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar and about $2.49 plus tax.

Naturally in this political summer, the dessert is controversial. Its fans say everything tastes better with bacon. Critics say we’re already too fat, and we don’t need help clogging our arteries. Yes it does. Yes we are, and no we don’t.

Can’t we all get along?

The outrage over the bacon sundae – obesity is America’s No. 1 health issue; how could they? – is misplaced. Fast food is a business. The marketplace – that’s all of us -- will decide whether Burger King is smokin’ or flaming out.

Going burger to burger against McDonald’s, BK retired the king from company logos, reportedly to attract women and younger customers. Hmm. This spring, it introduced truffle burgers in Hong Kong. A private equity firm led by Brazilian billionaires took over Burger King in 2010, but the company is about to go public again.

Denny’s offered a bacon maple sundae last year during its Baconalia promotion. Bacon sundaes may not be health foods, but they do generate buzz.

And nobody has to purchase the dessert.

As for sugar content, giant soft drinks pack more sugar wallop than the decadent bacon sundae. A 30-ounce Classic Coke provides 77 grams of sugar and the 40-ounce delivers 102 grams of sugar, according to BK’s nutrition information.
There’s something very American about this particular melting pot of sweet and savory flavors.

Archaeologists say people living in what’s now Turkey domesticated the first pigs 10,000 years ago. Did they also discover bacon? The Chinese claim Emperor Tang (618 to 697 A.D.) invented a version of ice cream. Venetian explorer Marco Polo may have brought it back to Europe in the 13th century, or that may be myth.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both served ice cream and bacon, but never the twain did meet, as far as we know.

“Virginia ladies value themselves on the goodness of their bacon,” Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette in June 1786. Really, George?

Several American cities argue over which one invented the sundae. Ithaca, N.Y., says it was first in 1892.

Growing up with bacon and eggs, many Americans have strong views about bacon. On this side of the Atlantic, we insist on crisp strips -- no limp bacon here. Maybe that says something about American drive and determination or maybe it’s just about cooking time.

Any day now, I expect to see President Obama or his Republican challenger Mitt Romney bring the bacon sundae to the campaign trail, rhetorically at least.

What this campaign needs is another Clara Peller, the diminutive octogenarian who charmed the country in 1984 with her whiny question: “Where’s the beef?”

The question -- from Wendy’s TV ads for its hamburgers -- became a catch phrase of that year’s presidential campaign. During the Democratic primaries, Vice President Walter F. Mondale, not particularly known for his wit, told Gary Hart in a debate that his vague promises about new ideas reminded him of the commercial.

“Where’s the beef?” Mondale asked.

In case you’re wondering, I won’t be indulging in any bacon sundaes. When I need a bacon fix, I’ll stick to what can be the world’s best summer sandwich, the BLT on toast. With mustard.

You can have yours with mayonnaise. It’s a free country.

(C) 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


1 comment:

  1. A BLT with mustard - no way - Ms Mercer is pulling our leg, again, but her light and breezy treatment of BKs' bacon sundae is right on. Each of us can decide for ourselves without having Mayor Bloomberg, or any other nanny, tell us what to eat or not eat.

    Ms. Mercer's column this week is just right for a lazy summerlike day and we enjoyed her wit and insight. Excellent work.