Conner Lewis, World History 4 9/22/14
Thoughts and Reflections On: Pork Lovers and Pork Haters
Article by Marvin Harris
Why Pork is Actually Tabooed
Many people have come up with a variety of explanations of why the consumption of pork is tabooed in religions such as Judaism and Islam. The earliest explanation believed that pigs were quite literally dirty animals. They believed it was unclean as it wallowed and ate its own filth. This is proven as inconsistent and incorrect because many other animals such as cows, dogs and chickens eat excrement as well. Also on the basis that they look unclean, the Bible states that locusts and grasshoppers are clean, which to most would appear strange and many would not agree. Another reason given was by Moses Maimonides during the early Renaissance. He believed that the ban on pigs was given as a public safety matter, and that a pigs meat could be damaging on the human body. He never stated how or why it was damaging on the human body, but people accepted this belief nonetheless. Another reason given was that in the mid 1800’s, it was found that uncooked pork could cause trichinosis. However this was later rebuked because many stated if the reason for the taboo on pork was that it was under cooked, surely Yahweh would have just stated to cook their pork well, not ban it altogether. It is also now known that many domesticated animals spread disease, so a ban on just pork would seem unreasonable. The final reason given was a very mystical and spiritual approach, many stating that the taboo was just something to follow, and that they should not try to decipher Yahweh's intent. Another reason given by Sir James Frazer states that many ethnic groups and religions in the Middle East hold the pig sacred, so this was simply that belief being conformed to by the Bible. However many other animals, such as the cow, are sacred in the Middle East as well, and they are not mentioned in the taboo.
The true reason for banning the consumption of pigs is that during the time before the Hebrew’s conquest of the Jordan Valley, they were nomadic pastoralists living between Mesopotamia and Egypt. The terrain of the areas between these two river valleys was very rugged and mountainous, and only suitable for some domesticated animals. The animals they kept tended to be sheep, goats and cows, who could survive in terrain as harsh as the Hebraic homes. Pigs on the other hand, are not suited for such dry and arid environments, mainly due to their inability to graze the flat plains which other domesticated animals do. They mainly live in shaded forests and rivers, and they consume the same foods people do. Their main source of nutrition is grain, making them a contender for the resource which humans need. It also cannot maintain a very stable body temperature in such a hot environment, due to its inability to sweat, and its lack of wool which sheep use to keep the sun off. This makes it a large hassle to keep them at good and stable conditions, especially for nomadic peoples. They also cannot create byproducts such as milk or wool and are very difficult to move in herds. The rise in population and overuse of fields also made pigs even more difficult to raise. This made pigs a commodity and luxury, as they were very tasty to humans due to their fatty bodies, making more people desire to raise them. The reason for the ban on pork was the need to stop people from attempting to raise pigs in a condition absolutely unsuitable for them. It was inefficient and harmful for both the environment and humans.
This is an environmental issue because the reason for banning pigs was to stop farmers and nomadic peoples from attempting to change the environment and make it suitable for raising and maintaining pigs. It was also a large waste of time seeing as the cost to keep the pig healthy in such a different environment from its natural habitat was much larger than that of goats and cows. It was considered a delicacy because of how rare it was, tempting people to go against what was suitable in their environment and raise a foreign animal. The Middle East is one of the worst environments for pigs, however human desires tend to override common sense and reasoning. This is why Yahweh and Allah had to step in and put a stop to the inefficient and foolish endeavor.