Why billions of people won’t eat pork (or why we don’t know)

this video is sponsored by squarespace pork has got to be the most polarizing meat possibly the most polarizing food pork is by some reckoning the most popular meat in the world accounting for more than a third of global meat consumption yet at the same time about a third of humanity studiously avoids eating pigs i can't find any hard data on that last point that's just a guess but islam of course strictly forbids eating pork hinduism is not wild about pork it's safe to say that a very large share of humanity thinks that this very popular food is inherently unclean and why nobody knows why i mean you might have a reason for yourself why you regard pork as unclean but i'm here to tell you that anthropologists and archaeologists and theologians have all been arguing about the historical origins of the pork taboo for a really long time and there is no clear scholarly consensus on the matter or rather there is a consensus that we really aren't sure where the pork taboo comes from historically we get very little help from the primary sources here in the torah is where we first see pork taboo codified in abrahamic religious law leviticus and deuteronomy both written down somewhere in the first millennium bce ancient jewish law says pork is bad because pigs have a cloven hoof but don't chew their cud and what does that even mean well cloven hoof means a hoof divided into multiple toes here's a horse hoof it's all one piece it has no toes here's a deer hoof it's got multiple toes it is cloven cows goats and sheep all have cloven hoofs and ancient israelites had no problem with eating cows and sheep and goats why because in addition to having a cloven hoof they also chew their cud and what does that mean well one of the biggest differences between you and me and goatee here is that goatee can digest grass and other foods comprised primarily of cellulose cellulose is this really big sugar that makes up the main structural bulk of most plants and we simply cannot digest it it's just fiber it passes right through us but ruminants like goatee swallow grass whole bacteria in their guts start fermenting or breaking down the cellulose and then comes the gross part goatee barfs up some of that fermented grass and then chews on it to break it down further before swallowing it again that is what it means for an animal to chew with the cud pigs don't do that pig and human digestive systems are very similar they basically eat what we eat leviticus and deuteronomy say pork is bad because pigs have a cloven hoof but don't chew their cud this book says absolutely nothing about why that is bad and this book is even less help the qur'an here just says that unless you're starving to death the flesh of swine is forbidden along with carion and blood but some people find a context clue there carion is rotten meat usually from an animal that died on its own instead of you slaughtering it and carrion is particularly likely to harbor dangerous pathogens and toxins likewise blood is particularly likely to harbor pathogens that said you can kill them through cooking them just like you can with any freshly slaughtered animal product people eat blood all the time but a lot of people look at this list and naturally assume that the prohibition against pork must have been some kind of ancient health and safety code this is a theory that gained a lot of traction in the 19th century when scientists first made the link between the parasitic disease trichinosis and the round worms often found in undercooked pork trichinosis was really pervasive in europe and the americas in the 19th century and at that same historical moment intellectuals in the west were really eager to reconcile religious teaching with their newfound scientific knowledge and the new understanding of trichonosis imbued a kind of scientific logic into the old testament and that was something that was very attractive to people at the time but more recent scholarship casts a lot of doubt on the trichonosis theory the american anthropologist marvin harris wrote a very influential book in the 1980s on meat taboos my contention he writes is that there is absolutely nothing exceptional about pork as a source of human disease all domestic animals are potentially hazardous to human health that much of course is indisputably true and may have been even more true in the ancient world before we had vaccines for things like anthrax anthrax is a horrible bacterial infection that herd animals like cattle and sheep can pass to humans there is no evidence at all that trichonosis was particularly pervasive in the ancient middle east and there's no evidence that ancient middle easterners even knew of its existence in contrast there is evidence that ancient people knew about anthrax anthrax may have been the fifth plague of egypt discussed in the book of exodus here and homer may have been talking about anthrax in the iliad there's nothing like that for trichonosis and harris argues there's a reason for that meat parasites cause relatively mild illnesses in people most cases are asymptomatic and the more serious problems can take years to unfold it's not like a poison that kills you within hours of ingesting it it would have been really hard for ancient people to make any link between meat and the parasitic diseases that it can sometimes cause and of course there's no particular evidence that trichonosis was bad in the middle east there's no particular evidence that trichonosis was any worse than any other parasitic disease caused by any other meat it's simply the case that trichinosis was bad in 19th century europe and america when this theory was hatched this is a simple case harris argues of modern people projecting their own experiences onto the lives of ancient people one of the earliest written specific arguments as to why pork is bad comes from the middle ages from maimonides maimonides was a philosopher who bridged the jewish and islamic worlds he was a sephardic jewish rabbi in service of an islamic ruler salah adin yusuf or saladin as he's known here in the west maimonides was saladin's court physician in egypt and here is what he wrote about the pork taboo about 800 years ago the principal reason why the law forbids swine's flesh is to be found in the circumstances that its habits and its foods are very dirty and loathsome if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh the streets and houses would be dirtier than any cesspool as may be seen in the country of the franks maimonides there is literally talking [ __ ] about the crusaders indeed pigs are more conspicuously gross than most farm animals they eat anything they eat trash they eat roadkill they even eat human excrement and they wallow around in mud potentially even their own excrement is this appetizing to you probably not but here's the big question humans are universally revolted by filth they are not universally revolted by pigs and why not well one explanation may be that pigs do not universally love filth pigs only resort to filth when we humans leave them no other option this right here is the theory that martin harris finds most persuasive the ancient middle east used to have a lot more trees and when wild or domesticated pigs hang around in forests they're not nearly as gross they root around at the base of trees for seeds and nuts and truffles and things that you and i would be happy to eat and they don't need to wallow in the mud because they have shade contrary to what the expression sweating like a pig would lead you to believe pigs have no sweat glands and they have small lungs so panting is not a great way for them to shed excess heat in hot sunny climates like here in the american south basically the only way for pigs to get cool is to cover themselves in mud given the option they'll wallow in clean mud but if they have to they will wallow in their own excrement the theory goes that over the course of the iron age population growth in the middle east resulted in deforestation and desertification pigs started to have to wallow to stay cool then came urbanization thousands and thousands of humans living on top of each other and filling their streets and their city dumps with food scraps and people poo all of which attracted pigs who were more than happy to make use of those discarded calories as people in the middle east increasingly came to see pigs in this new unflattering context they started to view pork as inherently unclean and what's worse pigs in this context may have come to compete with humans for food because remember pigs can't eat grass they like the same kinds of foods we eat like you know grains in say ancient rome the environment was simply less arid and more rich with food pigs and humans didn't compete instead urban pigs cleaned the streets of waste and converted it into delicious protein that same natural synergy helped make pork the favorite meat of rapidly urbanizing china to this day harris argues that in the comparatively arid middle east pigs became both gross and uneconomical a double whammy the religious prohibitions followed pretty persuasive argument right but there are counter arguments goats also eat absolutely anything including poop jews and muslims have no religious opposition at all to eating goat nor do they have any problem eating chicken despite chicken coops being almost as gross as pigsties and despite chickens not being able to live on grass either those chickens are eating grain grains that i could be eating instead directly they're competing with me but maybe a little bit less than pigs would some more recent scholarship indicates that chickens may have simply supplanted pork in the middle eastern diet because they do what pigs do only better this is a 2015 paper from the archaeologist richard redding at the university of michigan he argues that chickens can live in cramped urban spaces just like pigs they convert food scraps into protein just like pigs but they do it more efficiently they make eggs in addition to meat pigs don't do that and chickens are smaller which means you can just kill one cook it and eat the whole thing immediately that's a big bonus in a hot climate where meat goes bad really fast once you've slaughtered the animal redding argues that chickens were just better suited to the middle east than pigs were they simply got there later and when they did they supplanted pigs but if that were true why would you need a religious prohibition against pigs wouldn't people just naturally do the thing that worked better well one thing more recent archaeology shows is that pig eating never really stopped in the middle east and it wasn't just limited to non-israelites like the philistines ancient jews in various parts of the region ate pig which makes sense right nobody makes laws against things that nobody is doing what's clear is that once the pork taboo took hold it became a way for people to distinguish themselves from other people indeed this is another pretty recent paper i've been showing you where archaeologists found israelites from the northern kingdom were probably still eating pork when they migrated into the southern kingdom around the turn of the 7th century bce the law we see in the torah might have been a mechanism of assimilating these northern jews into the southern culture that eschewed pork in time the pork taboo became a way for the israelites to distinguish themselves from the romans and then it became a way for the muslims who inherited the abrahamic tradition to distinguish themselves from say those dirty crusading franks with their filthy streets it's easy to imagine why the pork taboo spread and why it persists to the point where my pork recipes here in this global platform get noticeably fewer views than my other meat recipes but where the pork taboo first came from nobody knows for sure what i do know for sure is that people of all religions and dietary codes can make a beautiful and 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Why billions of people won't eat pork (or why we don't know)

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"The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig, "1987 book by Marvin Harris about meat taboos: https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Sacred_Cow_and_the_Abominable_Pig/_iUdAQAAIAAJ?hl=en

2015 paper about how chicken may have supplanted pork in ancient Middle Eastern diets (not free): https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10814-015-9083-2

2015 paper showing that pig-eating persisted among ancient Israelites, particularly those in the Northern Kingdom: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275026551_Iron_Age_Pigs_New_Evidence_on_Their_Origin_and_Role_in_Forming_Identity_Boundaries