Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A History of Pork

One starting point for the story is the title "A history of pork".  I am interested in this because of the fact that pork is such a mainstay of many diets; I have noticed it in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Sweden and Lithuania.  I am also aware that many families raised their own pigs as a means of supplementing their diet.  The relevance then comes from a staple food that is simultaneously anathema, and of interest, it is anathema to two opposing groups, Jews and Muslims.  I was looking therefore to consider a story about how different people developed conflicting views in relation to the same thing, a narrative that could be elaborated in the context of groups immigrating into the same space.  I am thinking now that the book might be a piece of research undertaken by one of the characters.

The above is too late for the period considered, but there is something of the conflict that I suggest in the notion that the Nazis should call the Jews pigs; the sign reads "You Jewish Pigs; may your hands rot off."  Why they would choose pig I don't know; pig is a staple of the German diet and appears in just about everything, whether you want it or not.  I, for example, was served potato and mushroom soup with bits of ham; the waitress could not understand why I might object to eating such meat.

It would seem that pigs have been barred from Jewish diets for thousands of years.  A defining moment is seen in the capture of Jerusalem by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  The king sacrificed a pig in the temple to celebrate his victory, thus defiling the space.  When the Jews recaptured the city the began the festival of Hanukkah, Festival of Light, which bears many resemblances to Christmas, candles, presents, feasting.  Of interest naturally is once again the links between conflicting associations.  A website offering further information is available here.

Related to the History of Pork is the development of a vegetarian diet.  The following quote is new to me: 

"Our task must be to free ourselves . . . by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty." "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel Prize 1921

I am again reminded, however, of the waitress who found it difficult to comprehend that I wa a vegetarian.  Having been warned by her manager that she should tell me about the meat in the soup that she served me, she then left the soup on the table.  She seemed pleased that I had tasted it, that I might have enjoyed it and that it might indeed have served to cure me of my weakness.

There is evidence of the pigs inclusion as part of the revered dragon of the Hongshan Culture, the earliest culture of China, some 7500 years ago.  Their inclusion, along with snakes and birds suggest that they were respected for the qualities provided by their meat.  It is also shown that they were respected by the Egyptians as the picture below suggests:

They were, however, later reviled or feared, or associated with the unknown of Death and Darkness; swineherds were not allowed to marry out of their caste.  The animals were still sacrificed to Osiris and Thoth, indicating that they were prized.

Adonis, this link suggests, was birthed from a myrrh tree by a wild boar.  He was later killed by a boar whilst hunting.

Thesmophoria is a ritual from ancient Greece.  It recalls an agreement following the capture of Kore, daughter of Demeter, by Hades.  In the capture a herd of pigs also disappear.  Female worshippers of Demeter grew pigs from piglets and each year at the festival these pigs were sacrificed.  The dead pigs from the previous year were dug up and their decomposed bodies used to fertilise the ground.  Kore, in the agreement with Hades, disappeared for the winter months each year and returned in Spring.  Pigs were thus associated with death and rebirth, as with Osiris and Adonis.

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