- This article is on meat. For the political term, see pork barrel. For the computer program, see pork (software).
Pork is meat from pigs. While it is one of the most common meats consumed by the Chinese and Europeans, and to some extent North Americans, it is not considered kosher under Orthodox Jewish and halal under Islamic law.
Pork cuts and products
Pork from the haunch of the pig and then cured is called ham. Other eaten parts include pork shoulder, pork chops, pork neckbones, and pigs' feet. Pork ribs are taken from the pigs' ribs and the meat surrounding the bones.
Bacon is taken from the sides, back, or belly and cured, and is extremely popular in the US as breakfast food. Pork intestines are called chitterlings or chitlings. Pork is particularly common as an ingredient of sausage. Chorizo, fuet, and salami are sausages typically made with pork. Scrapple is another aggregate meat-food derived from pigs.
Pork products are often cured by salt (pickling) and smoking. The portion most often given this treatment is the ham, or [rear] haunch of the pig; pork shoulder, or front haunch, is also sometimes cured in this manner.
In earlier centuries in the United States, some pork products figured prominently in the traditional diets of poor Southerners, such as pigs' feet, hog jowls, and other parts not wanted by wealthy Southerners, because they were both available to them and affordable for the very poor. (See soul food).
Because of its high myoglobin content, pork is red before cooking, although it becomes lighter as it is cooked. According to the USDA, pork is considered a red meat, because it contains more myoglobin than white meat such as fish and chicken. Pork is very high in thiamin.
Despite the traditional definition of pork as a red meat, in 1987 the National Pork Board in the US began an advertising campaign to position pork as "the other white meat" due of a public perception of red meat as unhealthy. The campaign was highly successful and resulted in 87% of consumers identifying pork with the slogan. As of 2005, the slogan is still used in marketing pork today, with some variations.
The pork taboo
Others point to pigs being unclean, but pigs like to bathe frequently to keep cool. It's when they don't find water (as often happens in the Middle East) that they have to use mud or their own feces. Other meat beasts are as dirty as pigs.
For others, the restriction is arbitrary, a way to test the faith.
The cultural materialistic anthropologist Marvin Harris thinks that the main reason was ecological-economical. Pigs require water and shade woods with seeds, but those conditions are scarce in Israel and Arabia. They cannot forage grass like ruminants. They compete then with humans for expensive grain.
Hence a Middle Eastern society keeping large stocks of pigs would destroy their ecosystem. Harris points out how, while the sedentary Hebrews are also forbidden to eat camels and fish without scales, Arab nomads couldn't afford to starve in the desert while having camels around.
He also points to Albania where a cycle is established: Christians keep pigs and live in the oak woods. Muslims keep goats and live in denuded places. The goats maintain this status by eating saplings.
Some food psychologists point out the similarity between the Mosaic food laws as laid out in Leviticus and the natural 'disgust' reaction that all people generally show to novel meats (see the work of Paul Rozin). That suggests that the food taboos were a codification of existing practice rather than the imposition of a new rule, an attempt to give a religious explanation for an existing state of affairs in which the early Israelites did not eat pork etc. while other groups they knew did. Certainly, our 'disgust' reaction to novel meats helps maintain the taboo in societies over time.
The relevance of the pork taboo for archaeologists is that the teeth of cooked pigs are highly resilient to biodegradation. This facilitates the pinpointing of the moment at which Islam took hold, for example, at points along the Indonesian archipelago. Plentiful pig's teeth are found in digs of pre-Islamic settlements. Pig's teeth disappear from the traces as soon as Islam is adopted. See Maluku for a case in point.
To "pork" is also an archaic American slang word meaning "copulate." There are also many other modern meanings.
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