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Jesse Taylor eats bacon every day -- sometimes twice a day.

"It's a great anytime kind of meat. It improves the flavor of anything you add it to," said Taylor, 35, a bike mechanic who is studying to be a nurse.

He says he's lost weight eating bacon as part of a low-carb diet this year, shedding about 30 pounds since January.

"I'm a big fan of bacon," said Taylor, who has taken top honors two years in a row at a bacon-themed food contest/party organized by a friend. This year's entry: red-hot pork loin (marinated pork loin wrapped in bacon).

National food critics say bacon jumped the shark several years ago, after the salty meat infused popular culture and cuisine to the point of absurdity.

"Bacon had a good run, but now it has gone flabby -- used too much and too often, it's lost its novelty and coated fine dining with a ubiquitous veneer of porky grease," Wall Street Journal reporter Kate McLaughlin wrote in an October article under the headline "Bacon Backlash." Regardless of what the paid foodies think, bacon lovers are flocking to festivals that celebrate their favorite meat, including Des Moines' Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival and Chicago's Bacon-Fest. The 1,500 tickets available for this year's Chicago event sold out within a minute.

Those who can't make the big parties are holding their own.

Boisean Susanna Smith, a photo technician at the Idaho Statesman, hosted her second BaconFest in early May. Invitees brought about 25 bacon dishes to her home and cast ballots for their favorites.

"It's just something fun to do to have friends over," said Smith, joking that she advised participants to "wear stretchy pants." The dishes this year included bacon pumpkin pie, bacon fudge, maple bacon cupcakes, barbecue bacon meat loaf, bacon peanut butter cookies, baconized crackers and bacon baklava.

So what is it about bacon that has inspired an almost cultlike following? "I think the forbidden thing is a big part of it. People like to be naughty a little bit," bacon aficionado and Phoenix resident Heather Lauer said of the fatty, salty meat that used to be primarily a breakfast treat. The Nampa, Idaho, native, wrote "Bacon: A Love Story: A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat," which was published in 2009.

Lauer was sought out by a publisher who saw her "Bacon Unwrapped" blog, which she launched in 2005 just for fun. She was on the front end of the bacon craze. By 2008, bacon was in or on everything from cupcakes to neckties.

Bacon-flavored dental floss, anyone?

Even the major fast-food chains tried to cash in on the trend, from Wendy's "bacon-ator" to Taco Bell's bacon club chalupa.