Meat has gotten a bad name over the years.

Particularly certain kinds of meat. You know … hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meat. They’re not supposed to be healthy, are they?

Those are the meats you love to eat while knowing that you really shouldn’t … the original guilty pleasures!

But not so fast. What if you could ditch the guilt but keep the pleasure?

[That was a rhetorical question, but we’re betting you subconsciously answered “Great, but how?”]

In 1987, Stephen McDonnell came across a company called Jugtown Mountain Smokehouse. Their specialty was making nitrite-free bacon.

Of course, like many children of the 1970s, Stephen had “experimented.” Unlike most, his experiments had centered on the best way for a person to eat. Vegetarianism, veganism, macrobiotics … he tried them all before returning to the meat-and-potatoes roots of his childhood.

So Stephen bought Jugtown Mountain Smokehouse.

A very short time later it burned down.

A bad omen? Hardly, as it turns out. The spirit had gripped him, and something bigger and better was about to rise from all that badly burnt bacon.

Applegate was born with the idea that a person could feel good about eating meat if it didn’t contain ingredients that he or she knew were bad for them.

And so …

The revolution started slowly, but McDonnell soon found that people have a love/hate relationship with meat, and are thrilled to find products they can finally feel good about eating. Stephen resolved to give them what they wanted.

Applegate products are free of antibiotics or hormones. They are made from animals fed a vegetarian diet and treated with humane animal standards. They are free of chemical nitrites, nitrates or phosphates, and free of artificial ingredients or preservatives.

Now, 25 years later, the public’s demand for healthy food is no longer a “fringe” issue.

True to the inspiration of its founder, Applegate never uses the kind of ingredients or processing that turns real meat into “meat product,” and they contract with private farms that must adhere to very strict standards.

And McDonnell sees even bigger things on the horizon, “We started out with one farm, now we have 1,000 farms. And there’s nothing stopping us from making that 10,000 farms.”

Today their roster of healthy meats includes breakfast sausages and chicken nuggets in the frozen section, as well as hot dogs, dinner sausages, and deli meat.

His not-so-secret secret is the realization that individual families simply “… want healthy alternatives, not just for bacon and hot dogs, but in every category of meat.”

What could be more basic than that?