In addition to near-poetic descriptions of the yearly
pig execution, Jimmye Hillman tells of hunting wild boar, an activity
described in this several-hundred year old ballad collected in the
Appalachian Mountains by Cecil Sharpe:
There is a wild boar in these woods
He’ll eat your meat, he’ll drink your blood
Old Bangum he drew his Bowie knife
He swore he'd take that wild boar's life
Old Bangum went to the old boar's den
And he saw the bones of a thousand men
That wild boar came in such a dash
He cut his way through oak and ash
They fought four hours in that day
Old Bangum took the boar's life away
Old Bangum, did you win or lose?
swore by God he'd won his shoes.
Now let us pause for a word from the Loyal Opposition.
In America, especially in the South, the consumption of
pork has always been prevalent along rich and poor alike. Diners
feature fresh ham, salted ham, sausage patties and links, sausage and
gravy, pork chops, pork loin, roasted pork, pig liver, sousemeat,
chitlins and cracklins, pig’s feet pickled in brine... everything but
the oink, as they say. However, from the mid-1800s when they were
first identified, until the end of the twentieth century, the
well-named sutoxins such as trichinosis were also prevalent. These
nasty worms, carried in the flesh of mice and rats or even in the raw
flesh of pigs themselves and consumed by the family porker, transfer
happily to humans, causing muscular pains and very rarely, nerve
damage and death. This has been an argument for greater control of
pigs, resulting in modern “factory farming” that then resulted in an
outcry against mistreatment of animals, especially the intelligent
kind like Mr. Piggy.
It is well known that both the Christian Holy Bible and
the Muslim Koran forbid the eating of pigs:
Biblical book of Deuteronomy:
“You may eat any animal that has a split hoof
divided in two and that chews the cud. …the pig is also
unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You
are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.”
From the Koran: He has forbidden you carrion, blood,
and the flesh of swine; also any flesh consecrated other than in the
name of Allah.
Apparently, Someone was looking out for the proponents
of these major religions by ordering them to avoid the flesh of
animals that feed on other animals in general, and on dead animals in
particular. For some people, this provides a rational, not religious,
reason to avoid pork despite the traditions surrounding its
consumption (ham for Easter dinner being one local custom, and hog
jowls and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day) and the zealous ad
campaigns of the pork industry, piggishly scrabbling for their market
share in a country gone mad with healthy living.
Another argument against eating pork is that, as my
friends’ daughters innately understood, the pig is a smart creature.
Studies have shown that pigs have complex social lives, that sows sing
to their piglets, that pigs dream (perhaps they dream of having
wings!) and that pigs are not easily fooled. Pigs can distinguish
images on a screen. All pigs are smarter than any dog. Sorry, Fido.
However, the pig only excels as a pet when he or she is
young. I once met a man who was in a sad dilemma about his
pot-bellied pig. This animal was very intelligent, loved music and
made an excellent companion. But from an adorable baby he had grown
and grown, and now weighed in at about 200 pounds, so that even as a
“miniature” member of the Sus family, he was too much pig for one
bachelor. His food requirements were becoming an onerous burden, and
no gentle pen would hold him. I didn’t hear what happened to this
potbellied Mr. Piggy but I suspect he was one of many such animals
abandoned to the wild, where he would soon revert to feral habits.
For Jimmye’s family, religion was important; Sunday
included the ritual of chasing up and feeding the feral hogs, and
occasionally feeding the preacher, after church. It’s not clear how
roast pork sneaked back on to the Christian table, but where I live,
good people eat plenty of pig meat, pig pickin’ is a weekend excuse
for a party, and pork barbecue is just about synonymous with North
Carolina. However, some Christian sects like the Seventh Day
Adventists do not chew but rather eschew the meat of the pig, citing a
lower incidence of trichinosis in the bloodstreams of believers as
evidence that they have made the right choice.
Hillman’s book would make thoughtful reading for any
homesteader, as it describes not just the author’s encounters with
pigs but a panorama of life in times of economic stress where the only
industry, logging, had died out and people had to fend for themselves
as best they could without much cash. The parallels to America’s
current situation are obvious.
My wish for
Mr. Piggy is that he finds a way to let us know what other purposes he
was made for, and so free himself from the bondage of the food chain.