I've been seeing more and more "nitrate-free" cured meats being sold around town, even at the local farmers' market last week. This is nonsense.
First, a lot of products claiming to be "nitrate-free" cured meats do actually contain nitrate. If a product contains celery powder, then that is the delivery vehicle for the nitrate instead of the sodium nitrate seen in conventional cured products. That's just misleading marketing since chemically, a nitrate ion is a nitrate ion no matter where it comes from, and using celery powder is just a way of masking since the word "nitrate" no longer appears amongst the ingredients.
Second, every article I see railing against nitrates as carcinogens with such vim and vigor always targets cured meats as the sole source of nitrate. Why does no one say to stop eating vegetable sources of nitrate? Many vegetables, from lovely leafy greens, like spinach and cabbage, to roots and tubers, like beets and radishes. Nitrates are a fundamental part of nature; its everywhere. If people are afraid of the nitrates in bacon, then why are the perfectly fine to eat vegetables.
Last, "nitrate-free" cured meat will not taste like their conventional counterparts. Just as I've mentioned before with the "nitrate-free" corned beef from Whole Foods being neither as tasty or as visually appealing as my home-cured corned beef made with a touch of pink salt. One could make salt pork without nitrites to cure, but if you've ever had real salt pork, its quite a bit saltier than bacon. My understanding is that a greater amount of salt is needed to cure meat in the absence of nitrites, primarily as a safety precaution against botulism.
Anyhow, I just think that this whole "nitrate-free" marketing of late is just another example of marketers taking advantage of consumer ignorance. Its like herding sheep when it comes to eating habits. Trans-fats, omega 3/6, antioxidants, etc. Its all a bunch of fear mongering to direct consumer spending. Brings to mind the idea of "nutritionism" that Michael Pollan has brought to the fore.
All things in moderation.