Bacon is so important that, like crude oil, it is traded as a commodity on the exchange market. Fortunes are won and lost, people's lives heaved to and fro, all for the love of bacon—or more precisely, pork bellies.

Pork bellies are the undercarriage of the pig; slabs of fatty meat that will go on to be smoked, cured, and cut into what Americans refer to as "bacon." Besides Koreans (their version is called samgyeopsal), Americans are the largest enthusiasts of this fatty cut—and we eat enough of it for pork bellies to warrant a place on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The history of raising pigs in order to transform plant-based crops into marketable commodities goes back to the beginning of this continent's colonization. Farmers grew corn that had to be stored and transported somehow, in order to get a meager return on all the hours spent behind the mule. Other than whiskey (the other way to store corn), pigs offered the best storage solution for this pre-industrial conundrum. By 1900, the advent of meatpacking had ramped up the transport and sale of June hogs enough for them to become a proud contender in the first massive boom of capitalism.

Pork bellies' inclusion in hedge-betting endeavors, coupled with fluctuations in the market due to disease and inclement weather, for a time earned pork bellies a dubious, corrupt reputation. Having since been stabilized by massive leaps in antibiotic production and refrigeration technology, they have come back into favor as a means to diversify one's financial portfolio, taking the humble pig uptown.

We Americans never forgot the favor those pigs did us in our ambitious youth, nor the promising future they now offer—and we have been repaying them ever since by deducing ways to incorporate them into our diets and ultimately, our hearts.