Why I'm Not Worried About the Impending Worldwide Bacon Shortage

5 years ago

My fertile imagination and I are no strangers to conjuring up doomsday scenarios large and small. My anxiety levels are also happy to ride up the elevator of someone else’s imagined or real crisis: after all, what would shared human experience be without a rasher of irrational fear? But of all the possible disasters I’ve invented, never have I worried about the one currently capturing the attention of pork-lovers around the globe: A looming global shortage … of bacon.

Reports of this shortage arose from an ominous September 7 press release from the National Pig Association, a trade industry group from the United Kingdom. They claim high feed costs due to drought and other conditions that have affected global corn and soy production are putting pig farmers out of business. As a result,

Around the world, pig farmers are selling their herds because they can no longer afford to feed their pigs. In the United States the government has introduced a pork-buying programme in a bid to keep its pig farmers in business. And the Chinese government is putting pork into cold storage, as a buffer against shortages and high prices next year.

In response, the National Pig Association has begun a Save Our Bacon campaign (the very name of which has been causing me to reword the United Kingdom’s national anthem). As far as I can tell from the site, this campaign primarily involves encouraging British shoppers to buy as much bacon as they can to help support the farmers who produce their meat.

But how much do we really need to worry about this shortage? Should we expect empty bacon shelves at supermarkets next year? After all, it is true that the USDA has agreed to purchase up to $100 million in pork products (along with another $70 million of lamb, chicken and, well, catfish products) to help out U.S. farmers affected by drought conditions. (Those products will be distributed to a variety of food and nutrition assistance programs, like school lunch and breakfast programs, and to victims of natural disasters.) Isn’t that a potential sign of apocalypse?

The answer, it seems, is no.

The reality is all cuts of pork will probably be more expensive (that could end up being why we’ll eat less of it), and since bacon is, per ounce, one of the most expensive incarnations, it will become pricier as well.

Will it become pricey enough to completely shut out average consumers? Probably not. Sure, there are folks who track their food expenditures down to the penny, and who pay close attention to when food prices on individual grocery items go up and down, but I’d venture to guess I’m more like the rest of us: I shoot for an approximate budget number when I go grocery shopping, but if I’m buying a more expensive item one week, I just buy less of something else to compensate. I certainly don’t buy bacon every week.

And just as an aside, when we’re talking about saving our bacon, we also must be sure we’re all talking about the same product. Much like round and lean Canadian bacon bears little resemblance to what you’ll find on the average American bacon cheeseburger, British bacon is quite different from American-style bacon The bacon the UK’s National Pig Association wants to save is not the same type of strips I love to fry up in a cast-iron skillet on a weekend morning.

So. Is this a crisis worth freaking out about? Not even slightly. Don’t get me wrong—I love bacon, but I’m not going to build a vacation around it. And if it costs a little more to buy it, well, I don’t think that’s a terrible thing. It’s one of those food products that I think is probably best eaten in small quantities, no matter how delicious it may be.

What’s your opinion of the pork shortage? Are you worried about being able to fit bacon into your budget if the price goes up next year?

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.

Image Credit: Southern Foodways Alliance on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.