Pig/Pork by Pía Spry-Marqués
Our love affair with pigs – more accurately pork – extends to the dawn of human existence. Excavations at the site of Medzhibozh 1 in Western Ukraine indicate that “wild boar were being hunted half a million years ago, according to Pía Spry-Marqués in the illuminating Pig/Pork. The Terra Amata site in Nice, France revealed hunting practices 400,000 to 300,000 years ago. There is more recent evidence that, just 40,000 years past, the Japanese constructed sophisticated traps to catch wild boar.
Spry-Marqués notes that her affair with pork began as a child — not with cute animals, but with “the chorizo in the sandwich I ate after school.” Growing up in an international family, she learned to love a variety of dishes that included pork as served in a number of countries. Reading archaeology and anthropology in college led to a “Ph.D on what people were eating in southern Croatia about 18,000 years ago.”
Each chapter of Pig/Pork concludes with a couple of recipes. For example, the chapter on food waste concludes with two recipes from Spain. The first is for pork tenderloin, the best part of the pig. The other is for Ciadillas, the word for testicles of farmed animals. Having castrated scores of pigs in my youth and having no appetite for “mountain oysters” as they are called in North Carolina, I passed over this one. Another chapter includes a recipe for chitlins, or intestines. “Making this recipe is done at your own risk,” Spry-Marqués states. Having stood over an iron pot cooking chitlins in our backyard, I can offer one additional piece of advice with authority: Know and trust the person who cleaned the intestines.
The ten chapters of Pig/Pork cover a broad range of topics that begin, as noted above, with a personal and historical perspective. “Food Waste” encompasses two themes. The first is the enormous amount of food we waste each day and how that can be ameliorated. The other issue briefly examines how pigs are raised commercially and the growing issue of how to dispose of the waste enormous pig farms produce. Fifty thousand pigs produce about 500,000 pounds of urine and feces each day. A comparable number of humans produce about 295,400 pounds per day. If you have driven through an area rich in pig production, you will have noticed the smell that creeps into your car, even at 70 miles per hour. Imagine the effect on the people who live nearby! She touches on the disastrous results when a series of hurricanes caused waste pools to overflow and contaminate thousands of acres, and she offers some solutions that might help prevent yet another incident.
Another chapter observes why some cultures consider pigs unclean and refuse to eat them while another investigates the science of cooking pork. Spry-Marqués also touches on the difficulties caused by feral pigs which have been reintroduced to Britain as they have escaped from breeding farms. She goes on to contrast the pros and cons of domestic versus feral and how cross-breeding affects their meat.
The themes of the sub-title “Archaeology, Zoology and Edibility” are brought full circle in the final chapter, which is perhaps the book’s most thoughtful and best written. It imparts an ironic twist (which must not be revealed here) that explains why the title is written as it is: Pig/Pork.
Pía Spry-Marqués was born in Spain but now lives in Britain where she is a research associate at the University of Cambridge. A zooarcheologist, she seeks to identify, classify, and decode the meaning of animal remains found among ancient human remains.