The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Want To Live Past 100? Eat More Bacon!

Up until recently, conventional wisdom told us that bacon and eggs would surely be the death of us all. An entire generation was frightened into believing that eggs contained enough cholesterol that eating more than one a week was going to close up your arteries and send you to an early grave.
Guess that's why my grandfather made it into his eighties on a steady diet of four eggs per sitting four or five days a week. And, of course, the “killer egg” theory has now been thoroughly discredited.

Bacon is still getting the rap, though. Only it's not fat or cholesterol that's supposedly going to put you in permanent stasis, it's nitrates. Used in the curing process, they convert at high temperatures to carcinogenic nitrosamines that attack your pancreas and are also said to be a factor in COPD.

Which is why, as a dedicated, bacon-loving American I proudly introduce to you Pearl Cantrell. She's a widow and mother of seven who lives in Texas, where she mowed her own lawn until recently and still dances a mean two-step. Oh, and by the way, she's 105. When asked – as centenarians inevitably are – for the secret of her longevity, she replied, “I love bacon. I eat it every day.”

Now, “every day” may be overdoing it a bit. As much as I love the porcine ambrosia that comes from the belly of a pig, I only eat it once or twice a week. You know, the old saying about “too much of a good thing”? Even one of the more apologist studies conducted by the University of Zurich and involving nearly a half-million people points to “moderation” as a means to reduce “premature deaths” among processed meat eaters by up to three percent. Apparently, Pearl was not part of the study group.

Now, to be fair, you've got to look at a few other minor factors. It's really easy to say, “My grandfather ate a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon for breakfast every day and he outlived his doctor by thirty years.” Most of those hearty old souls – like Pearl – worked their fannies off on a daily basis. Pearl picked cotton and baled hay. She didn't ride around on a garden tractor when she mowed her lawn, she pushed a mower. And she dances just for fun. I expect that if she had chained herself to a desk for forty years and then retired to a rocker in front of the TV, she'd have been gone a long time ago, bacon notwithstanding. So many people today ignore the “exercise” part of the “diet and exercise” equation. Yes, our forebears ate like pigs, but they also worked like horses. Most of my adult life, I've had to find a time and a place to “exercise.” People like Pearl and my grandfather exercised because their lifestyles left them no other choice. That's largely why they could eat all those eggs and all that bacon with such abandon and impunity.

Nonetheless, I say, “You go, girl” to Pearl Cantrell. More than two hundred well-wishers recently feted her feat at a three-day-long birthday party. And when Oscar Meyer got a whiff of her bacon eating prowess, they sent her a supply of the stuff and let her ride around town in the Weinermobile. Next time I pass through Tennessee, I intend to see Allen Benton at Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville and talk to him about sending Pearl some good bacon for her next birthday. It'll probably arrive in a UPS truck instead of a Weinermobile, but I guarantee she'll treasure the memory of eating it if she lives another hundred and five years.

So is a daily dose of bacon really the secret to good health and long life? Sadly, no. But you've got to admit, it's a fun story.

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