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How We Talk About A Bacon Sundae

This is the bacon sundae.
Noel Barnhurst
This is the bacon sundae.

I come not to praise the Burger King bacon sundae, nor to bury it. I come merely to point out that sometimes, the particular flavor of contempt with which you choose to address something is as important as the contempt itself.

What brought this on is this hilarious blog post (hilarious in a different way than I think is intended) at The Atlantic pointing out that the bacon sundae is "pandering" and "passe." Adam Martin talks to one friend of his who works at Saveur (which is, as of this writing, featuring a lemon curd and goat cheese breakfast sandwich on its home page) and another unidentified "friend of a friend." They all agree that everybody knows bacon-decorated desserts are so totally over – in fact, Martin carefully quotes several trend pieces that say bacon in desserts is totes not cool at all anymore. In the end, he argues, the idea of a Burger King bacon sundae "takes something already played out among foodies and sells it to the rest of us on the assumption that we weren't paying attention."

A few things.

Nobody who is eating at Burger King is trying to be on trend, unless they are somehow eating there ironically, in which case they deserve to be disappointed. Most people eating at Burger King, I would venture to say, are doing it because it's quick, cheap, and (to their palates) tasty. Perhaps there exist twee emo types who eat at Burger King because they read in a food blog that Burger King actually turns out to have delicately delectable fries and they think it's hilarious to tweet photos of BK fries with quotes from Fiona Apple or something like that, but I'm going to suggest those people are exceptions, and I'm going to state flat out that they are of no concern to me. Hearing anyone speak of "with-it food blogs" as if they constitute authority makes me cringe a little, since "with-it" is perhaps the hollowest praise I can summon.

The great majority of the human beings in the country don't give a fiery flapdoodle, particularly when they are just trying to grab a quick lunch or dinner at the drive-through, what "foodies" are eating and blogging about, let alone what they have finished eating and blogging about. Hard as this may be to believe, people around the country eat uncool food all the time. Constantly. They do it recklessly, without regard to their reputations. They eat completely unfashionable chicken Caesar salads, they consume coffee that's been on the burner for an hour, and they nuke Lean Cuisines at lunch, and they actually feel okay about themselves. They do not feel "insulted" that they are being served inarguably uncool food, let alone food that has merely been declared uncool in Greenpoint. When they pulled into the parking lot, they actually weren't going for cool points.

It's a weird stripe of cultural blindness for someone who consults friends at Saveur on fast food matters to refer to himself as "the rest of us" when it comes to eating at Burger King. Honestly, bacon sundaes don't matter, but this ... kind of does. If you call up your foodie friends to discuss Burger King, you are a foodie yourself, which is totally fine! And great! Saveur is fine; it is all about great and meaningful eating experiences and the people who are passionate about them, and those people are no worse than anyone else who is very passionate about something! But when you redefine the universe so that everyone either is a foodie or, at the very least in the case of "the rest of us," is insulted by being served anything that foodies have declared "passe," you make it appear that you don't remember what role food plays in the life of most of the actual humans around you.

In short, while this "not cool, Burger King!" post is obviously meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's actually pretty painful to read. This is the kind of status-conscious cultural commentary that, even if you're kind of kidding, is so clearly steeped in the limited scope of your own universe that it can make people feel like they're not part of your tribe if the only things they would ever worry about with a bacon sundae are (1) does it taste good, (2) how much does it cost, and maybe – maybe! – (3) is it terribly bad for you. It pains me a little, just knowing somebody is spending time sitting around talking about whether Burger King is doing something "passe" and eye-rolling over the focus-grouping and "pandering," as if the money-not-cuisine priorities of a giant fast-food chain have just been identified right this minute.

Of course Burger King is pandering. Of course they focus-grouped it. They have never, obviously, aimed their menu at adventurous, trend-conscious eaters. There's certainly a potentially fun discussion to be had about the bacon sundae — our food blog, The Salt, had one earlier this spring. But I don't think this "the bacon sundae is really corporate" scoffing is getting at it.

Look: I have absolutely no interest in the Burger King bacon sundae. None at all. I suspect it won't taste good, and I don't like soft-serve, and I rarely go to Burger King anyway, and yes, the calorie content is very, very excessive for something that you're likely to eat on top of a fast food meal. But if you ask me which feels more insulting, as between the bacon sundae and the suggestion that I'm going to evaluate the bacon sundae based on whether it's sufficiently avant-garde, you might be surprised by the response.

Oh, and one other thing: cold bacon is inherently disgusting? I would beg to differ. I had a Bloody Mary in Austin this spring with a piece of bacon in it, and when I had finished the drink, I consumed the bacon, and it was delicious. Please feel free to report me to the coolness police if you feel you must.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.