JUST AS BACON has permeated our culture - bacon-flavored ice cream, soda, cologne, massage oil, toothpaste, beer - comes word from the esteemed World Health Organization that bacon (along with other processed meats) is no good for you.
As if we thought it was.
WHO said it increases the chance of cancer.
One analysis showed that eating 50 grams (less than 2 ounces) of processed meat daily increases the lifetime chance of colorectal cancer by 18 percent, but because the chance of Americans developing colorectal cancer is only 1 in 20, the risk rises from 5 to 6 percent.
The American Institute for Cancer Research defines processed meat as "meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives." Examples given include ham, bacon, pastrami, luncheon meats, hot dogs and sausage.
Did someone say sausage?
Sonny D'Angelo, of D'Angelo Brothers, knows sausage like woodpeckers know trees. I ask if he's heard about the study.
He laughs. "Who paid for the research, PETA?"
I tell him, no, WHO, which begins to sound like an Abbott and Costello routine.
What's in your sausage, I ask Sonny.
"Meats, spices, wine, vegetables, that's it," he says. "I don't even put water in my sausage."
Not all sausage is as pristine as Sonny's. Elsewhere you might find preservatives such as nitrates, which have long been thought of as bad.
[Personal disclosure: I haven't eaten pork products in decades, for health concerns. Not mine - the torture that factory farming inflicts on pigs. Also veal.]
"I thought pork was pretty lean, it's 'the other white meat,' now it's joined the ranks of the 'demon' beef," says Sonny.
"Fish has mercury," he adds with the spice called sarcasm, "so if you eat tilapia you're risking your life."
In recent years his beef sales have gone up, not down, but his beef is "free-range, grass-fed Kobe," which uses no steroids, no hormones, no preservatives.
Bottom line for him is that "everything in moderation is not going to hurt," and in that he agrees with the North American Meat Institute, a trade group representing almost all U.S. meat processors and suppliers.
After the WHO report, the meat institute released a statement that said, "Red and processed meat are among 940 agents reviewed by [WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer] and found to pose some level of theoretical 'hazard,' " and pointed to "more studies showing the many health benefits of balanced diets that include meat."
This is not a defense of meat - processed meat, sausage, bacon and most especially scrapple, the favored ethnic food of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Isn't attacking scrapple almost an assault on ethnic diversity? Do we need a special-interest group called HOMS - Hands Off My Scrapple?
How bad is scrapple? I ask Jake Riehl, who gives me a big smile while telling me he eats it weekly and feeds it to his four kids, ages 4 to 11.
I find Jake at a counter at the Reading Terminal Market beneath a sign reading, "L. Halteman Family Country Foods." Blocks of pork scrapple are front and center in the display case (turkey scrapple, too).
Jake says nitrates added to any food "is always a hot topic, but there's so little in anything that's smoked" that it almost seems incidental.
"I've been eating scrapple for as long as I remember," he says, "and never had a problem with it. I eat more turkey than pork now, for health reasons a little bit, but I still eat pork."
He fries it, topping it off with maple syrup. "Mmmm, mmm," he says - and that's a direct quote.
Once upon a time, it was said that scrapple makers used every part of the pig but the "oink," but that's changed, says Jake. It's more wholesome now (if you don't push "wholesome" too far).
"Every time an article like this comes out, it helps us," Jake says, "because we are a local butcher and people come to us" to get away from the processed meats.
Jake and Sonny and Byko agree that moderation is the key.
A sausage sandwich won't kill you. Neither will scrapple, smoked ribs or a pastrami club.
Maybe just not daily, OK?
On Twitter: @StuBykofsky