The recent Blue Ribbon Bacon Fest in Des Moines, Iowa, confirmed old obsessions but added a new flavor. The event continued the proliferation of bacon gatherings in this country, but this year's theme included a "sister state connection" that means bacon fests have gone international.
A Japanese contingency joined the party--to gain insights about hosting their own festival and to celebrate the bond between Iowa and Japan when it comes to hog production.
In 1959, Yamanashi Prefecture--Japan's major pork center--was devastated by typhoons. Hog production was wiped out. Within a year, the Iowa Hog Lift organized a rescue effort. Farmers donated 36 lean-meat hogs, and the animals started a three-day flight that included several stops. The porkers were even bathed along the way to prevent overheating, and the care paid off--the pigs multiplied into a burgeoning hog industry in Japan.
The people of Yamanashi sent Iowa a "Bell of Friendship" in 1962, and the prefecture sent $300,000 to Iowans in aid relief during the Great Flood of 1993. The tight "porcine connection" between the two states is celebrated in a clever, bilingual book called Sweetcorn and Sushi.
The first Yamanashi bacon festival occurred in November 2017, with 12,000 pork-loving attendees. This does not surprise me. In the late 1980s, I was working in Tokyo, and I saw a row of "Iowa Chops" in a local grocery store. The pork chops were thicker than the cuts usually sold there--meat portions were generally thin sliced and expensive in Japan at that time. But the red, white, and blue display was part of the trade that has made the Land of the Rising Sun America's number one pork importer.
I'm not sure the Japanese will become quite as bacon obsessed as Americans, where you can order everything from bacon-flavored lip balm to soap to kids' toothpaste. When I was doing pig chores as a junior high kid on a Midwest farm, the last thing I wanted to smell like at school was a pig I had just fed or chased back into a pen. But as Homer Simpson said, "Pigs--a wonderful, magical animal." Considering the popularity of bacon, he must be right.
by dan gogerty (graphic at top from blueribbonbaconfestival.com; top pic from weebly.com and bottom from japan.jpg)