How Bacon & Eggs Became America's Breakfast

By Ann Foster Thelen

Some foods fit together so perfectly that it’s hard to think of one without the other. Peanut butter and jelly, chili and cinnamon rolls, biscuits and gravy, grilled cheese and tomato soup, bacon and eggs. Their flavors magically unite to create a tasty and sensory experience for even the pickiest of palates.

But these food pairings didn’t always start out as dynamic duos. Someone’s brilliance created the culinary combinations, often in surprising ways.

Bacon & Eggs with a Side of PR

Did you know that public relations, bacon and eggs all have something in common? You might guess that it’s merely the breakfast of choice for PR folks. Or, it might be that PR people love clever pairings and dissecting word choices. For example, why are eggs plural when there is more than one, but bacon is “bacon,” no matter if it’s one slice or three slices? And, who could even eat just one slice of bacon!

It takes a trip back in time to find there’s a rich history of public relations’ role in creating the iconic All-American Breakfast. Before the 1920s, and before breakfast was dubbed as the most important meal of the day, people had a rather meager amount of food to start the day. A cup of coffee or a glass of orange juice washed down a simple roll or biscuit. People didn’t know what they were missing until someone decided to tell them!

Edward L. Bernays, known as the “Father of Public Relations” orchestrated a massive change in American public opinion that fundamentally changed the way people thought about breakfast. Interestingly, Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and shared his uncle’s ability to understand the human psyche.

In the 1920s, Beech-Nut Packing Company hired Bernays to help the company sell more of one of its key products – bacon. Bernays began thinking about bacon for breakfast. In fact, he consulted with his doctor about people’s habits of eating a lighter breakfast. He concluded that a bigger breakfast was better for people’s health and could power them through the day with more energy.

He took his idea a considerable leap further, asking his physician to write 5,000 letters (of which Bernays paid for) to see if other doctors concurred with the philosophy that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. They did. Soon, big and bold newspaper headlines stating, “4,500 Physicians Urge Heavy Breakfast to Improve Health of American People” dominated papers across the country.

Through Bernays’ savvy efforts, many doctors were quoted as saying, “Bacon and eggs should be added to the breakfast plate.” Bacon sales soared, people embraced the All-American Breakfast and Beech-Nut Packing Company was thrilled. Bernays’ approach continues to be a textbook example of engaging third-parties to help validate an idea.

The Machine Shed restaurant in Urbandale serves up a hearty portion of Bacon and Eggs. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Sunny Side Up and Still Sizzling

At the time, Bernays was helping his client sell more products, but he was really onto something. Likely the reason his bacon and eggs breakfast option has stood the test of time is that the protein speaks for itself.

At just 70 calories and pennies per serving, eggs are nutritional powerhouses. What better way to start that day than with 6 grams of high-quality protein and all nine essential amino acids?

At the popular Machine Shed restaurant, patrons can receive an extra egg with their meal just by saying, ‘I love eggs!’ Whether they are hard-boiled, scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, poached or in an omelet – eggs are always an egg-cellent option.

Research continues to reveal the enormous health benefits of eggs. For example, evidence shows that serving the nutrient-packed favorite increases focus and performance for kids at school. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a nutrient considered essential for normal fetal/infant brain development and memory, even later in life.

According to the National Pork Board, bacon served for breakfast accounts for 57 percent of all bacon sold in food service and a whopping 71 percent of the time, bacon and eggs are eaten together. But bacon isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Bacon can be found on donuts, in shakes and wrapped around veggies or burgers.

On social media, bacon is the top-mentioned pork product. There are even festivals around the world – including Iowa’s very own Blue-Ribbon Bacon Festival – where bacon lovers gather to show their passion for the protein.

Iowans don’t have to go far for high-quality bacon and eggs – Iowa is the No. 1 pork- and No. 1 egg-producing state in the nation. Farmers and foodies would love to thank PR-legend Edward Bernays for cracking open a breakfast idea that is still sizzling hot today!

For more fun facts about bacon and egg-citing facts about eggs, check out the National Pork Board’s Bits About Bacon and the Iowa Egg Council’s resources.