Bacon: The life of the party

by Bernard Shire
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A crowd gathers for the Pennsylvania Baconfest in Easton.
Consumer obsession with bacon has led to a rise in bacon-themed events.
 
Rising interest in everything bacon has led to the increasing popularity of bacon-themed events.

The number of bacon festivals has surged nationwide and the festivities on offer have evolved as well. Many “bacon fests” are now co-located with beer or bourbon-based events, adding even higher spirits to the festivals. In many cases, a portion of the profits from these events are donated to local charities.

Quite a few bacon festivals already have been held this year, with more scheduled for early 2018. The Pennsylvania Baconfest, for example, was held in November in Easton, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia and New York.

“The Pennsylvania Baconfest, now on its sixth year, grew out of the Easton Farmers’ Market, America’s oldest, continuous open-air market, established in 1752,” says Liz Wyant, a festival organizer who is manager of special events and promotions for the Greater Easton Development Partnership. The two-day festival attracts more than 80,000 attendees and is held, rain or shine, at the roundabout at the very center of downtown Easton, extending three blocks in all four directions.

Bacon doesn't only come in strips, as this platter of samples shows.
This sampler board shows many shapes and sizes of products made from pork.
 

One of the largest bacon festivals in the Midwest is the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, which this year was held in February. Drawing more than 11,000 people to the Iowa Events Center, the event has been held for 10 years. “We get our bacon from 12 different purveyors,” says Brooks Reynolds, Blue Ribbon organizer. “We had 75 different bacon products, from Godshall’s, Hormel, Sugardale, Des Moines, Berkwood Farms and Cloverdale,” he says.

Bacon festivals have even gone the international route. The Blue Ribbon organizers collaborated on the first Japan Bacon Festival, which was in November at Kitaguchi Historical Park, and Yamanashi Prefecture Foundation Park in Kofu, Japan. The cross-cultural baconfest featured American-style and Japanese-style bacon, pork-inspired cuisine by 20 local restaurants, beverages, food preparation demonstrations, a chef exchange, live music, bacon-filled contests — and international bacon fellowship. Part of the proceeds supported local charities.

“Kofu is our sister city,” Reynolds notes. “Fifteen people from Japan came to Iowa for our festival. Then we had a 5 a.m. meeting with our friends in Japan via Skype to plan the Japanese festival. Des Moines and Kofu became sister cities through a historic event. In 1959, Japan was devastated by two huge typhoons, and Iowa’s response was to airlift 36 breeding hogs and 100,000 bushels of corn to help with the recovery effort. It was called the Iowa Hog Lift and set the stage for Iowa and Yamanashi becoming Sister States, opening markets and agriculture cooperation between the US and Japan,” he explains.

Bacon festivals bring out creative costumes such as these 'bacon strips' wearing plastic pig snouts.
Bacon strip costumes are popular garb at bacon festivals.
 

There are more bacon festivals to come: like the Keystone Bacon & Bourbon Festival in Colorado; the Ozarks Fest, featuring bacon, bourbon and beer; the Wellington Bacon and Bourbon Festival, near West Palm Beach, Florida; and the Nashville Bacon, Eggs & Kegs.

And a big one: the Chicago Baconfest in April 2018. Over the years, this festival has contributed $400,000 and one million meals to the Chicago Greater Food Depository.

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