There is nothing like the aroma of bacon. The smell of pork belly sizzling on a griddle is enough to tempt the most loyal of vegetarians. While scientists have tried to explain the appeal by hypothesizing that a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugar is part of the allure, most area residents just know “they like it.”
“This is a bacon-eating town,” said Kim Casey, owner of Morgan’s Cafe off Kings Highway in Charlotte Harbor. “My customers eat a lot of bacon. It’s the grease that does it.”
If you had asked local restaurant owners to consider something other than pork bacon a year ago, they would have told you “when pigs fly.” But a recent report released by Britain’s National Pig Association predicting a worldwide pork shortage in 2013 has local businesses thinking twice about adding extra slices of the delectable protein to practically every item on their menu.
“Most of the meals served here either come with a side of bacon or have bacon in them,” said Ivan Cole, owner of Cozie Cafe, located on Bayshore Road in Charlotte Harbor. “I would literally have to redo my entire menu. There are at least 15 to 20 items with bacon.”
In a recent press release, the NPA reported that not only has the European Union pig herd declined at a significant rate, but the trend is being mirrored around the world. All the main pig-producing countries in Europe already have seen significant reductions in their sow herds.
“Pig farmers have been plunged into loss by high pig-feed costs, caused by the global failure of maize and soya harvests,” the release stated.
Brad Bryan, manager at Bryan Farm supply in Arcadia, said the price of pig food has increased by nearly 25 percent over the last three months.
“I get complaints every day,” he said. “I was hoping it would go back down.”
The NPA predicts pork prices could increase by over a third eventually. Some restaurants would consider purchasing bacon in bulk and freezing it before they changed anything on their menu. At the Family Table Restaurant in North Port, Steve Zulbeari works hard to keep costs down at the family owned eatery.
“We wouldn’t want to charge extra if bacon becomes $1 a slice,” Zulbeari said. “We might have to stock up on it before it gets higher. We have the freezer space.”
Cole considered integrating bacon substitutes like turkey bacon or beef bacon into his recipes.
Like Zulbeari, most Charlotte restaurant owners say raising prices or limiting portions would be their last resort; however they already are feeling the effects.
John Belmont, owner of J.B.’s Conch Restaurant in Englewood East, said food prices have doubled in the last two years. The price of chicken wings, like bacon, has increased. Where Belmont might expect to pay $25 to $30 for a case of any kind of bacon, he says he now has to plan to pay $45 to $50 a case. Interestingly, he said, pork prices haven’t climbed as high.
“I’m still maintaining my prices,” Belmont said, “but it’s been difficult — very difficult.”
The food shortage is greatly due to the weather. According to the Financial Times, this past season’s droughts in North America and Russia are to blame for the spike in animal feed prices. In August, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported more than half of the country’s land mass was experiencing some form of drought.
While the NPA’s warnings have been broadcast widely across news networks, some residents think the alarm is a little premature.
“We went through this two years ago,” said John Cwikowski, owner of Johnski’s House of Breakfast in Punta Gorda. “I used to be the general manager at a Bob Evans restaurant and it was all gloom and doom and nothing happened. I will just take this information and see if anything really comes out of it.”
Staff writers Elaine Allen-Emrich and Steve Reilly contributed to this story.