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Death of common courtesy & the smell of bacon

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POSTED July 17, 2013 2:01 a.m.

Do you love the smell of bacon?

If you do, you probably don’t like the smell of the leftover bacon byproducts such as rendered lard. When that mixes with oxygen and is burned off experts compare the smell to wet cardboard or paint. You don’t inhale that odor most of the time since households don’t cook enough bacon to make it an issue. That’s not the case with commercial operations, especially restaurants specializing in bacon.

Such is the case in San Francisco’s Haight Asbury where a battle between bacon lovers and a restaurant named “Bacon Bacon” and neighbors that don’t like the smell of the leftover bacon byproducts dissipated into the air through the dining spot’s exhaust system comes to a head Thursday. That’s when the city rules on whether to approve allowing Bacon Bacon to operate. The restaurant was recently shut down by the health department because it did not have all of the appropriate permits.

Bacon lovers have been merciless on the complaining neighbors, especially with Internet postings. It should be noted that one complaining neighbor offered to help the owner pay for an order-abatement system but the bacon chef declined citing the expense.

Smell is a highly personalized thing.

Even so, very few people tolerate being downwind from a BBQ. Most commercial operations position them so the smoke doesn’t flow back into the restaurant or into their faces. Even so, it isn’t unusual to see people roll up their windows when stuck in traffic near downtown Manteca businesses that have outside BBQs that are positioned to blow the smoke into the street.

Over the years, I’ve only had one clueless neighbor insensitive to others. It happened to be in the Laurel Glenn Apartments on Button Avenue. For an entire summer, they barbecued every night, careful to position the grill so it wouldn’t blow smoke into their ground-floor apartment. The smoke made its way consistently through my second floor windows I left open as did their cigarette smoke. I was forced to close my windows. No big deal, perhaps, but I prefer open windows.

My downstairs neighbor did complain, though. They were basically told by the barbecuing enthusiasts to get used to it. When she pointed out the obvious of how they positioned the BBQ not to blow smoke into their apartment, she was told point blank that was her problem.

Which brings up a legitimate point: Whose problem is offending smells as well as what constitutes an offending smell?

As we live closer and closer in proximity to each other and common sense and common courtesy go out the window government is going to be foisted into the middle of odor arguments between neighbors.

Most odors — even those that are offending — are tolerable. When we lived a block from the Spreckels Sugar front gate, the smell was OK as we only got it once or so a month when the wind shifted direction. Eckert’s Cold Storage will sometimes put off a smell that isn’t 100 percent pleasant when processing bell peppers but it is a fleeting odor and dissipates.

Having odor and smoke flow into your home night after night from a neighbor’s BBQ or having to deal with a restaurant’s odors 12 hours every day is a big deal.

Most people understand that. I asked friends who had a backyard why they barbecued in the front yard on their porch. They pointed out the BBQ smoke didn’t bother neighbors when they grilled meat in the front yard but no matter how they positioned it in the backyard it would make its way into their neighbor’s house.

The practice of common courtesy makes a good neighbor. There is a reasonable limit that people should be able to expect when it comes to noise, smells, and even blight in a neighborhood.

Comments made by some defenders of “Bacon Bacon” make assertions that this is a free country and no one should impose their will on others.

But that is happening when neighbors are essentially held hostage to offending odors, noise or blight.

Make light of the bacon wars in San Francisco all you want but as we become more and more urbanized how we interact with each other — including passively through even such acts as barbecuing — becomes more critical.

If we really support the concept of laissez faire when it comes to the role of government then we need to commit ourselves to what is rapidly becoming an antiquated concept — common courtesy.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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