Pig Pig - Prohibitions

Judaism forbids the eating of pork and describes pigs as "unclean". A few minor Christian sects follow this rule, but Judaism's other offspring, Islam, takes it to extremes. Jews are forbidden to eat pork, but they have no prohibition for pig products such as leather. Islam goes the whole hog, forbidding any contact with pigs or pig products whatever on pain of eternal damnation, and no virgins.

The Hebrew texts do not explain the prohibition so it's been a matter for conjecture. Most opinions have been presented by academics who have little association with pigs (well, real pigs anyway) in their natural habitat.

Trichinosis is often proposed. It's a sometimes deadly, sometimes debilitating disease, caused by a parasitic worm, and can be contracted by eating undercooked pig, bear, dog, walrus or any other animal that is not purely vegetarian. The incidence of debilitating trichinosis was probably insufficient and insufficiently immediate for this to be the reason. Western medicine did not fully accept consumption of undercooked pork as the cause of infection until after 1850, and it hasn't discouraged other cultures from heavy pig consumption.

Wallowing in Mud has been proposed. Pigs can't sweat so need water to keep cool on hot days, but pigs in a natural environment prefer clean water if they can get it, and will keep themselves clean if possible. In environments with a lot of biting insects they may prefer a coating of clean mud, as do many humans native to those environments.

Economic reasons have been proposed. Raising pigs would have been an economic disaster for a dry land sheep and goat herding people, but would have been popular among the hated rich Pagans in the river valleys. Jewish leaders were anxious to make their people "different" to keep them from skipping out and fading into some more comfortable society, so this could well have been a consideration.

"Ideal Animals". Judaism is said to favor eating only "ideal animals", those definitive of their type, in order to be more in tune with God. Since pigs and fish without scales do not match the "ideal" for their type they are forbidden. I suspect this explanation was made up later as an explanation - and how do you explain a perfect God making "imperfect" animals, anyway?.

The Most Likely Reason is known to any "less developed" rural society where people live in close proximity to free range pigs. Pigs consider human excrement a highly desirable gourmet treat. If they see someone going out to do #2, they're right there (and they are reported infallible judges as to whether it's going to be #1 or #2). In the indelicate words of a Southeast Asian farmer, "What we shit here they eat in the city". Some people have a problem with this, though there is no health risk if slaughter is handled properly.

Of course our American grain fed hogs never have an opportunity to indulge in this treat, but I remember the plight of an anthropologist who got the "revenge" in a remote Indian village in Mexico. She had to run outside and, as the pigs gathered, jump over a stone wall. The pigs had to go around so she had time to take care of her business and jump back before a stampede descended upon her.


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