is a term used synonymously with "hog" and "swine" for the one
domesticated suid species, Sus scrofa domesticus. In livestock
circles, a pig becomes a hog when it passes the weight threshold
of 50 kilograms. The word "swine" transcends age and sex but to
many has a pejorative ring. A "gilt" is any immature version of
a sow, whereas a "barrow" is a young, castrated male that can
never grow up to become a boar. After a piglet has been weaned,
it becomes a "shoat." Most of these terms are not used by a general
public whose only encounter with this animal is in the supermarket.
The meat of this often maligned beast yields some of the worlds
best-tasting flesh and provides good-quality protein in large
domesticated pigs originated from the wild boar (Sus scrofa)
(Epstein 1984). Within that one wild species, more than 20 subspecies
are known in different parts of its natural range, which has extended
from the British Isles and Morocco in the West to Japan and New
Guinea in the East. But where in this vast stretch of territory
the first domestication occurred is still uncertain, although
the earliest archaeological records (c. 70005000 B.C.) have
been concentrated in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.
the recovery of bones of domesticated pigs has been done at Jericho
(Palestine), Jarmo (Iraq), Catal Huyuk (Turkey), and Argissa-Margula
(Greece), as well as other sites. But bones older than any of
those from these sites were uncovered in 1994 at Hallan Cemi in
southeastern Turkey. There, in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains,
the pig was apparently kept as early as 8000 B.C., making it the
oldest known domesticated creature besides the dog. Moreover,
pig keeping at this site was found to predate the cultivation
of wheat or barley. Both findings contradict the long-held twin
assertions that sheep and goats were the worlds earliest
domesticated herd animals and that crop growing preceded the raising
of herd animals.
alternative view places the beginning of swine domestication in
Southeast Asia. Carl O. Sauer (1952) suggested that the pig under
human control diffused from there northward to China. However,
Seung Og Kim (1994) has suggested that political elites in northern
China established their authority by controlling intensive pig
production as early as 4300 B.C. Certainly, archaeology and cultural
hubris have combined to convince many Chinese that it was their
ancestors who first domesticated the pig. The Chinese ideograph
for "home" consists of a character for "swine" beneath another
character for "roof" (Simoons 1991).
innate traits of the wild boar make it plausible that multiple
domestications have occurred at different times and places in
the Old World. This inquisitive, opportunistic artiodactyl may,
in part, have domesticated itself by choosing to freely come into
association with humans. Garbage at settlement sites provided
a regular food supply, and human presence offered protection from
large carnivores. Reproduction in captivity could have been initiated
when captured wild piglets were tamed. Human control would have
been easily accomplished, for it has been observed that the striped
piglets of the wild boar behave just like the unstriped piglets
of the domesticated species. The next step, unconscious selection,
began the long process of evolving regional distinctions in the
animals conformation. However, the emergence of distinctive
breeds, as we know them today, dates mostly from the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, when artificial selection was implemented
on a large scale.
probably lay behind the transformation of the pig from a semidomesticated
status to one of greater mutual dependency with humans. In ancient
Egypt, followers of Seth sacrificed pigs to that god. On the Iberian
Peninsula, the granite sculptures called verracos, carved
by Celts between the sixth century B.C. and the first century
A.D., suggest that pigs might have had a religious role. In ancient
Greek and Roman times, pigs were sacrificed to deities. In China,
the Manchus believed that a sacrificial pig drove away bad spirits
and assured good fortune. In all these groups, the incentive of
supplying live animals for cultic purposes could easily have resulted
in breeding pigs toward greater dependency on humans.
of the Pig
a contemporary utilitarian perspective, the pig is one of the
glories of animal domestication. It is prolific. After a gestation
period of only 4 months, a sow gives birth to an average of 10
piglets, though litter size may, on occasion, be as large as 30.
Growth is rapid. In a 6-month period, piglets of 1.2 kilograms
can potentially increase in weight by 5,000 percent. This growth
translates into a higher return for energy invested than for other
domesticated animals. Another advantage is the omnivory of pigs,
which permits a wide range of food options; items that are plentiful
and cheap can dominate the intake. For example, surplus crops,
such as sweet potatoes in New Guinea, coconuts in Polynesia, maize
in the midwestern United States, and barley in Denmark, are frequently
enhanced in value because they can be fed to swine. A major disadvantage
of pigs is their low ability to digest fibrous plant matter, so
that, unlike ruminants, they cannot do well on cellulose alone.
most of their domesticated history, swine were kept in one of
two ways: free-ranging in forests or sedentary in settlements.
In neither case did they compete with humans for food, although
pigs have the capacity to eat and thrive on the same nutrients.
For the range pig, both plant and animal matter, on and beneath
the forest floor, was sought. In Western Europe, where domesticated
swine have been known since before 4000 B.C., they ate acorns,
chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts, and wild fruits such as berries,
apples, pears, and hawthorns. Their powerful mobile snouts and
sharp teeth were able to dig mushrooms, tubers, roots, worms,
and grubs from the ground. Eggs, snakes, young birds, mice, rabbits,
and even fawns were consumed as opportunity arose.
use of pannage (pasturing in a forest) to feed pigs was recorded
from antiquity in Europe and still has not totally disappeared.
An abundant iconography suggests the role that swine played in
the development of European rural society. The pig is always pictured
as an animal with a long flat neck, straight back, narrow snout,
small erect ears, and long legs. Nimble and resourceful, it thrived
on mast (nuts from the forest floor). In the early Middle Ages,
mast rights were a greater source of income from the forest than
the sale of wood. But pannage required peasants to enclose their
fields with wooden palisades or hedges to prevent pigs from entering
and destroying their crops. As concern for forest resources grew,
the pannage season was fixed by seigneurial decree. The main feeding
period came in the autumn, when nuts, a highly concentrated source
of nutrition, fell in large numbers. In many places, it became
traditional to begin mast feeding on the feast of Saint Michael
(September 29) and to conclude it on the last day of November
feeding has now disappeared from Europe except in a few places.
Its best-known survival is in Spain, where the oak woodland still
seasonally supports black and red Iberian swine (Parsons 1962).
Although by 1990 these rustic mast-feeding breeds made up only
4 percent of the Spanish pig population, the cured pork products
derived from them have been prized as especially delectable. Thus,
cured hams (jamon ibérico) from these swine are
very expensive; most famous are those from Jabugo, a meat-packing
village in the Sierra Morena north of Huelva.
his second voyage, Christopher Columbus brought the first pigs
to the New World (1493). From an original stock of eight, they
multiplied on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, and many later
became feral. Rounded up as needed, pigs were put on board ships
bound for Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and all the islands in between.
Francisco Pizarro, who had worked with swine in his youth in Extremadura,
brought live pigs to the Andean highlands from Panama in 1531.
The long-legged, nimble suid was well suited to move along with
the expedition parties as a mobile fresh meat supply. Tropical
America afforded no acorns or chestnuts, but an abundance of wild
fruit, especially from palms, provided nourishment for the pigs.
In semiarid zones, seed pods of leguminous trees were the common
food of foraging swine.
first pigs in what is now the United States arrived from Cuba
with Hernando de Sotos expedition (153942) through
the Southeast. Later introductions came from the British Isles,
most notably to John Smiths settlement of Jamestown in 1607.
A few years later, they had multiplied to several hundred head.
In Virginia, and elsewhere in eastern North America, pigs fit
well into the forested countryside as foragers. Abundant oak and
chestnut mast in the Appalachians offered a good return in meat
for almost no investment in feed or care. In late autumn, the
semiferal animals were rounded up and slaughtered, and their fatty
flesh was made into salt pork, which along with Indian corn was
a staple of the early American diet. In the early nineteenth century,
these Appalachian pigs were commercialized. The leading national
and world position of Cincinnati, Ohio (often jokingly called
"Porkopolis"), as a soap manufacturing center owes its origin
to pigs brought there on barges for slaughter; their flesh was
salted and their fat rendered into soap.
type of hardy porker and wily beast of folk legend still survives
in the Ozarks and elsewhere in the southern United States. In
fact, these "razorbacks" could be descendants of those that accompanied
the de Soto expedition. The explorer gave gifts of live pigs to
the Indians, and when he died in 1542 near what is now Fort Smith,
Arkansas, 700 pigs were counted among his property. In addition,
Ossabow Island, off the coast of Georgia, still harbors a breed
of swine considered to be direct descendants of those brought
by the Spaniards.
addition to the Caribbean Islands, other uninhabited islands around
the world became homes of the pig. In many cases, the animals
were introduced by explorers and mariners and left to reproduce
on their own. Sailors on passing ships often rounded up and slaughtered
some of these feral pigs to replenish shipboard larders. Nonetheless,
pigs on islands often multiplied to the point where they destroyed
native fauna and flora.
Melanesia, semidomesticated pigs still forage in the forest and
are slaughtered primarily for ritual purposes (Baldwin 1983).
R. A. Rappaport (1967) has explained the impressive pig feasts
among the Tsembaga people of New Guinea as a societal mechanism
that fulfills the need to control the size, composition, and rate
of growth of the pig population. Without the periodic slaughtering
of large numbers, the pigs would seriously damage gardens and
crops. Rappaports effort to understand pigs and ritual as
part of a homeostatic balance became one of the landmark works
of the developing subfield of cultural ecology. Whether such a
pig complex makes economic sense has been debated because, in
this case, the animal is not a regular source of human food. But
aside from their meat, pigs must be appreciated in manifold ways:
as a hedge against uncertainty (e.g., crop failure); as a negotiable
store of surplus; as a source of fertilizer; and as disposers
of garbage and other wastes.
garbage pig was essentially "presented" with its food intake,
either at a fixed site or within a circumscribed area. In eastern
Asia, where centuries-old deforestation and high population densities
did not favor mast feeding, pig raising was long ago oriented
toward consuming wastes. Important in China and Korea, at one
time, was the privy pig, kept to process human excrement into
flesh for human consumption. Four young pigs could derive sustenance
from the waste of a family of four humans, which provided the
animals with approximately 2 kilograms of human excreta and 220
grams of garbage each day (Miller 1990). In Asia, food provided
by humans rather than by foraging promoted sedentary habits that,
in turn, led to the evolution of several breeds with a swayback
and a dishlike face. But even the miniaturized types of Asian
pigs have big appetites and large litters.
garbage pig could also be found in ancient civilizations outside
of eastern Asia. Robert L. Miller (l990) has brilliantly reconstructed
the scavenging role of the pig in dynastic Egypt. But, thus far,
similar evidence is lacking for ancient Greece and Rome. In Europe,
the garbage pig goes back to the Middle Ages but seems not to
have been common until the fifteenth century, when the so-called
Celtic pig, with white skin and pendant ears, emerged. Families
fattened their pigs primarily on food scraps, and when winter
neared, the animals were butchered. Their meat was cured and their
fat rendered to make lard for cooking and especially for food
preservation. Thus, the human diet was diversified during the
form of pig keeping expanded as forest clearing advanced and the
scale of food processing increased. Grist and oil mills generated
large quantities of waste materials that could be consumed by
pigs, as could the garbage from institutions like hospitals and
convents. Before proper sewage disposal was implemented, many
cities had swine populations to serve as ambulatory sanitation
services. In medieval Paris, so many pigs were locally available
for slaughter that pork was the cheapest meat. The monks of Saint
Anthony the patron saint of swineherds were given
special rights to keep pigs within the city walls. In New York
City, pigs wandered the alleyways well into the nineteenth century.
Naples was the last large European city to use pigs for sanitation.
Neapolitan families each had a pig tethered near their dwellings
to consume garbage and excrement.
peasant societies still value the garbage pig as an element of
domestic economy. In much of rural Latin America, pigs consume
what they can find, to be later slaughtered with minimal investment
in feed (Gade 1987). Lard has been an important product of pig
keeping there. Frying was a cooking innovation introduced with
the European conquest, and native people learned to depend on
this source of animal fat. Today, however, the meat quality of
these haphazardly fed animals no longer meets the health requirements
of city dwellers, most of whom get their pork products through
sheep, whose wool may be more valuable than their flesh, or cattle
that are kept for their milk or for use as draft animals, pigs
have had no primary nonmeat uses. A possible minor exception has
been the truffle pig, employed in France mainly in the
Périgord region to locate the black truffles synonymous
with gourmandise. A trained sow can detect from 6 meters away
the smell of the unseen truffles.
hog distribution is strongly affected by cultural and ecological
factors. More than 40 percent of the world porcine inventory is
in China, where density is among the highest anywhere: For every
three people in China, there is one pig. Some of this swinish
appeal is cultural preference, though much can be explained by
lack of alternatives. Human population pressure in China does
not permit the extravagance of devoting large areas of land to
grazing herbivores. Swine in China long had a niche as scavengers,
scatovores, and consumers of surplus food crops.
including Russia, has about 170 million pigs, and Denmark is the
only country in the world that has more pigs than people. The
United States and Canada together have about 70 million of the
animals, which means roughly one pig for every four people. Brazil
has about 32 million head. Pigs are more important on many Pacific
Islands than their total number (less than 5 million) would suggest.
Middle East, however, is one part of the world that is largely
devoid of pigs. Those that are kept generally belong to non-Muslims
(such as the Coptic Christian peasants in Egypt), but some marginalized
Muslims may keep pigs secretly. In humid Southeast Asia, the Islamic
injunction against pigs is somewhat more nuanced, and in Indonesia,
Muslims are among those who consume the products of the more than
8 million swine in that country.
India, where the Hindu majority views all flesh foods as unacceptable
elements of the diet, there are only about 10 million pigs, and
in non-Islamic Africa, pigs number only around 18 million, considerably
less than one might expect. But there African swine fever has
periodically wiped out pig populations.
the Arctic and Subarctic have historically had few pigs for quite
different reasons. Very short growing seasons do not provide sufficient
feed to maintain them; moreover, piglets cannot survive extremely
cold winters without proper protection. Thus, in Greenland, the
Norse settlements between A.D. 986 and 1400 had cattle but no
think that pork is the most savory of all flesh foods. The abundance
and quality of fat keeps the meat from tasting dry and imparts
a characteristically rich flavor. High pork consumption patterns
are found in both China and Europe. In China, it is more important
than all other meats combined, and use is made of all parts of
the pig, including its liver, kidneys, feet, knuckles, tongue,
skin, tail, and blood (Anderson 1988; Simoons 1991). Most pork
cuts are also fried in lard.
Europe, more than in China, cured pork products are favored. Germans
and Slavs enjoy a range of sausages such as pork brain sausage
(Gehirnwurst), much appreciated in Germany but unavailable
commercially in the United States. In addition, Russians and Poles
are especially fond of suckling pig.
also enjoy high pork consumption and have a special fondness for
cured hams and suckling pigs. Cochonillo asado, a strongly
traditional Castilian meal, features a 1-month-old piglet fed
only on its mothers milk and roasted in an earthenware dish.
Spanish enthusiasm for pig meat stems in part from porks
past importance as a symbol of cultural identity. Because Moors
and Jews did not eat it, Christians saw the meat as more than
simple nutrition. In sixteenth-century Spain, pork eating was
an acid test faced by Spanish Moriscos and Marranos who publicly
claimed conversion to Christianity. Conspicuous pork avoidance
could result in an appearance before the tribunals of the Inquisition.
North America, pork lost its preeminent position to beef in the
early twentieth century. Aside from the fact that cattle ranchers
were much better organized to promote their product, pork had
acquired negative connotations as the main food in the monotonous
diet of poor people and pioneers. At one time, pork also had unhealthy
associations because of the potential for human infection by the
organism Trichinella spiralis, carried by pigs, but federal
meat inspection to certify trichina-free meat has greatly reduced
the incidence of trichinosis. Still, wide knowledge of that old
health risk continues to motivate cooks to make sure that pork
is served only when fully cooked. Pork is considered done when
it reaches an average interior temperature of 75.9° C (170°
are often used in southern-style barbecue, and bacon, which comes
from what the meat trade calls "pork bellies," continues as an
important component of the traditional American breakfast. "Chitterlings,"
made from intestines, are eaten as part of the ethnic cuisine
known as "soul food," but they appear in few other cases. In contrast,
ham, mostly cured, has wide appeal. Virginia hams, especially
those from Smithfield, have had the best reputation among connoisseurs.
Fattened on peanuts and corn, Virginia porkers yield a ham that
is smoked and then matured for a year.
of Pig Meat
the popularity of pork in much of the world, it can also be observed
that no other domestic animal has provoked such negative reactions
in so many as the pig. In Western countries, swine are commonly
seen as a metaphor for filthy, greedy, smelly, lazy, stubborn,
and mean. Yet these presumed attributes have not prevented pork
consumption. In other cultures, however, strongly negative attitudes
toward the pig have historically resulted in its rejection as
human food and even, in some cases, as an animal fit to look at.
one-fifth of the worlds population refrains from eating
pork as a matter of principle. Muslims, 800 million strong, form
the largest block of pork rejecters because the pig is specifically
named in the Koran as an object of defilement. A millennium earlier,
Jews had also decided that the pig was unacceptable as a source
of food. In the Bible (Leviticus), the animal is rejected because
it does not meet the arcane requirements of both having a split
hoof (which it has) and chewing the cud (which it does not). It
is quite possible that the prophet Mohammed acquired his conception
of the pig as an unclean animal from the Jewish tradition.
Jews, in turn, may have gotten their basic and negative idea about
the pig from other neighboring peoples (Simoons 1994). Brian Hesse
(1990), investigating Iron Age Palestine, found no evidence for
a significant cultic role for pigs, which raises the intriguing
question of whether Hebrew rules prohibited a food that no one
ate in the first place. Although the Hittites of Anatolia kept
pigs, they entertained negative notions about them. In dynastic
Egypt, swineherds were a caste apart; pigs acquired a reputation
for being unclean, and their flesh was not eaten by priests. Marvin
Harris (1985) has asserted that because the pig does not fit into
the hot and dry conditions of the Middle East, the Israelites
banned it as an ecological misfit. Others, however, believe that
the history of this fascinating taboo is more complicated than
that (Simoons 1994).
the Christian tradition, adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
do not consume pork, yet their religiously affiliated Coptic brothers
in Egypt do eat it. Many Buddhists and the great majority of Hindus
refuse pig meat, although in both cases this avoidance arises
more from vegetarian conviction than from any explicit religious
taboo toward the animal. The Mongols, those nomadic folk of central
Asia whose way of life is ill suited to pig keeping, consider
the pig to be a symbol of Chinese culture.
reluctance to keep pigs and consume pork has also been noted in
Scotland. Eric B. Ross (1983) has explained the rise of the Scottish
aversion to the pig as a response to the ecological cost of keeping
pigs after the decline of oak and beech forests. Because sheep
raising best suited the subsequent moorland landscape, mutton
became a cheaper and socially more acceptable source of animal
most industrialized countries since the 1960s, pig keeping has
moved rapidly toward maximizing efficiency of production (Pond
1983). Animals are injected with growth hormones and spend their
short lives within buildings in near darkness. Artificially inseminated
sows (a technology that appeared in 1932) farrow in narrow steel
cages. Piglets are removed early from their mother so that lactation
ceases and her sexual receptivity is reactivated. In four months,
another litter is produced. Piglets have their incisors removed,
tails docked, ears notched, and in the case of males, their testes
excised. Most pigs never reach their eighth month, although theoretically
the animal can live about 15 years. Modern hog raising seeks to
emulate the efficiency levels of the poultry industry. In that
quest, its technological center in the United States has shifted
from the Midwest to a belt of large corporate farms in eastern
North Carolina. In 1994 alone, that latter-day "hog heaven" sent
nearly 10 million animals, worth a total of about a billion dollars,
to market. The next step, pork processing and trade, is normally
quite lucrative, for about 75 percent of a pigs carcass
can be made into salable cuts of meat. By-products, such as lard,
bristles, gelatin, and cortisone, further enhance profitability.
almost half a century, a spiced ham product high in fat has been
a favorite canned food in the United States and many other countries.
Spam, packaged by Geo. A. Hormel and Company of Austin, Minnesota,
has a sales volume of close to 100 million cans a year. Since
1937, when it was put on the market, Hormels Spam has served
as an economical source of meat protein for millions of people.
In 1991, following a major trend in the American food industry,
Spam Lite was introduced; this product, however, barely meets
federal requirements for fat content reduction.
and cholesterol-conscious consumers in Europe and North America
have had an impact on the pork industry (Bichard and Bruce 1989).
Consumer demand calls for leaner cuts, including substantial fat
trimming, in supermarket meat cases. There is also a strong motivation
to develop hog breeds with less fat in their muscle tissue, which
normally has 5 to 7 percent fat. Pork fat is higher in unsaturated
fatty acids than beef, veal, or lamb fat. On the average, one
85-gram serving of pork contains about 79 milligrams of cholesterol.
as a cooking medium, has ceded its former importance to vegetable
oils. In response to this development, a shift in hog breeds toward
the Landrace and the Large White has occurred. Of the 15 breeds
of swine listed in the 1930 USDA Agricultural Yearbook,
more than half have now disappeared. Less efficient breeds have
also lost ground in Europe, where half of the 66 surviving breeds
are now rare, and only 40 of 100 different breeds occurring in
China are considered to be economically valuable (Epstein 1969).
trade in pig meat originates overwhelmingly in Europe. In place
for many decades, the single biggest flow of cured and canned
pork is from Denmark to the United Kingdom. But even before that
trade emerged, bacon had become an integral element of the British
breakfast. The word "bacon" is derived from Francis Bacon (15611626),
whose family crest featured a pig. Japan, although traditionally
not a major consumer of pig meat, has become a significant importer
of European pork products, and the well-known prosciutto (cured
ham), from the Province of Parma in Italy, is now found in upscale
shops around the world. Much potential movement of processed pig
meat is thwarted because of the prevalence of three diseases,
found mainly in underdeveloped countries: foot-and-mouth disease,
hog cholera, and African swine fever. In Haiti in the early 1980s,
for example, an epidemic of African swine fever killed two-thirds
of the countrys 1.2 million pigs. The surviving swine constituted
a reservoir of the disease and were slaughtered. Then, disease-free
swine were imported from the United States and distributed to
some of Haitis 800,000 former pig owners.
story of the pig in space and time is one of a multifaceted mutualism
with humans. Its early roles, as a feeder on garbage or as a free-ranging
consumer of mast in the forest, freed the pig from competing with
people for the same food. Part of this mutualism was also hygienic
because of the animals capacity for disposing of wastes.
Transforming the least noble of materials into succulent protein,
however, also engendered enough apparent disgust to ban the animal
and its flesh in certain cultures. The pig is now found around
the world under vastly different circumstances. In industrialized
countries, questions of efficiency and fat control have become
of paramount importance, and no other domesticated animal has
undergone such major changes in the way it has been kept.