Why Heaven Hates Ham


‘In microcosm, this apparently trivial fetish shows how religion and faith and superstition distort our whole picture of the world. The pig is so close to us, and has been so handy to us in so many respects, that a strong case is now made by humanists that it should not be factory-farmed, confined, separated from its young, and forced to live in its own ordure. All other considerations to one side, the resulting pink and spongy meat is somewhat rebarbative. But this is a decision that we can make in the plain light of reason and compassion, as extended to fellow creatures and relatives, and not as a result of incantations from Iron Age campfires where much worse offenses were celebrated in the name of god. “Pig’s head on a stick,” says the nervous but stouthearted Ralph in the face of the buzzing, suppurating idol (first killed and then worshipped) that has been set up by cruel, frightened schoolboys in Lord of the Flies. “Pig’s head on a stick.” And he was more right than he could have known, and much wiser than his elders as well as his delinquent juniors.’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 41

On Viticulture


“The people of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.”

– Thucydides

Eating Carbs


Enhanced dribble
100,000 years ago

Your saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, made by the AMY1 gene, which digests starch. Modern humans whose ancestors were farmers have more copies of AMY1 than people whose ancestors stayed as hunter-gatherers. This digestive boost may have helped start farming, settled villages and modern societies.

See other: What Makes Humans Human?

The Mistrusted Ungulate


‘I hope that you have guessed by now what we know in any case—that this fine beast is one of our fairly close cousins. It shares a great deal of our DNA, and there have lately been welcome transplants of skin, heart valves, and kidneys from pigs to humans.

If—which I heartily trust does not happen—a new Dr. Moreau could corrupt recent advances in cloning and create a hybrid, a “pig-man” is widely feared as the most probable outcome. Meanwhile, almost everything about the pig is useful, from its nutritious and delicious meat to its tanned hide for leather and its bristles for brushes.

In Upton Sinclair’s graphic novel of the Chicago slaughterhouse, The Jungle, it is agonizing to read about the way that pigs are borne aloft on hooks, screaming as their throats are cut. Even the strongest nerves of the most hardened workers are shaken by the experience. There is something about that shriek…

To press this a little further, one may note that children if left unmolested by rabbis and imams are very drawn to pigs, especially to baby ones, and that firefighters in general do not like to eat roast pork or crackling. The barbaric vernacular word for roasted human in New Guinea and elsewhere was “long pig”: I have never had the relevant degustatative experience myself, but it seems that we do, if eaten, taste very much like pigs.

This helps to make nonsense of the usual “secular” explanations of the original Jewish prohibition. It is argued that the ban was initially rational, since pig meat in hot climates can become rank and develop the worms of trichinosis.

This objection—which perhaps does apply in the case of non-kosher shellfish—is absurd when applied to the actual conditions. First, trichinosis is found in all climates, and in fact occurs more in cold than in hot ones. Second, ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish tips, as opposed to the presence of such bones in the middens of other communities. The non-Jews did not sicken and die from eating pork, in other words. (Quite apart from anything else, if they had died for this reason there would have been no need for the god of Moses to urge their slaughter by non-pig-eaters.)’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 38-39

A Short Digression on the Pig


‘All religions have a tendency to feature some dietary injunction or prohibition, whether it is the now lapsed Catholic injunction to eat fish on Fridays, or the adoration by Hindus of the cow as a consecrated and invulnerable animal (the government of India even offered to import and protect all the cattle facing slaughter as a result of the bovine encephalitic, or “mad cow,” plague that swept Europe in the 1990s), or the refusal by some other Eastern cults to consume any animal flesh, or to injure any other creature be it rat or flea. But the oldest and most tenacious of all fetishes is the hatred and even fear of the pig.

It emerged in primitive Judaea, and was for centuries one of the ways—the other being circumcision—by which Jews could be distinguished. Even though sura 5.60 of the Koran condemns particularly Jews but also other unbelievers as having been turned into pigs and monkeys—a very intense theme in recent Salafist Muslim preaching—and the Koran describes the flesh of swine as unclean or even “abominable,” Muslims appear to see nothing ironic in the adoption of this uniquely Jewish taboo.

Real horror of the porcine is manifest all over the Islamic world. One good instance would be the continued prohibition of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, one of the most charming and useful fables of modern times, of the reading of which Muslim schoolchildren are deprived. I have perused some of the solemn prohibition orders written by Arab education ministries, which are so stupid that they fail to notice the evil and dictatorial role played by the pigs in the story itself.

Orwell actually did dislike pigs, as a consequence of his failure as a small farmer, and this revulsion is shared by many adults who have had to work with these difficult animals in agricultural conditions. Crammed together in sties, pigs tend to act swinishly, as it were, and to have noisy and nasty fights. It is not unknown for them to eat their own young and even their own excrement, while their tendency to random and loose gallantry is often painful to the more fastidious eye.

But it has often been noticed that pigs left to their own devices, and granted sufficient space, will keep themselves very clean, arrange little bowers, bring up families, and engage in social interaction with other pigs. The creatures also display many signs of intelligence, and it has been calculated that the crucial ratio—between brain weight and body weight—is almost as high with them as it is in dolphins.

There is great adaptability between the pig and its environment, as witness wild boars and “feral pigs” as opposed to the placid porkers and frisky piglets of our more immediate experience. But the cloven hoof, or trotter, became a sign of diabolism to the fearful, and I daresay that it is easy to surmise which came first—the devil or the pig. It would be merely boring and idiotic to wonder how the designer of all things conceived such a versatile creature and then commanded his higher-mammal creation to avoid it altogether or risk his eternal displeasure. But many otherwise intelligent mammals affect the belief that heaven hates ham.’

Hitchens. C. 2007. God Is Not Great London, Great Britain: Atlantic Books (2008) p. 37-38

Meat On The Menu


A varied diet
3.5-1.8 million years ago

Our oldest ape-like ancestors mostly ate fruit, but later species like Australopithecus branched out. As well as eating a wider range of plants, such as grasses, they seem to have eaten a lot more meat, and even butchered it with stone tools. More meat meant more calories, and less time spent chewing.

See other: What Makes Humans Human?

Apparently Obvious Innovations


‘I’ll tell you what I like about Chinese people: they’re hanging in there with the chop sticks, aren’t they? You know they’ve seen the fork. They’re staying with the sticks. I’m impressed by that.

I don’t know how they missed it. A Chinese farmer, gets up, works in the field with the shovel all day… Shovel… Spoon… Come on… There it is! You’re not ploughing 40 acres with a couple of pool cues.’

Seinfeld, J. (1998). I’m Telling You For The Last Time. Broadhurst Theatre, New York: Universal Records.