Join us on Wednesday, June 17 at 7pm for a talk and signing by Mark Essig of his book, Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig.
“The chicken contributes,” Howard Nemerov wrote in his poem “Bacon & Eggs,” “but the pig gives his all.” Unlike every other domestic beast, which pull plows, give eggs or milk, or grow wool, a pig produces only one thing: meat. They do so with remarkable efficiency, reaching slaughter weight at just six months of age and producing a flavorful flesh that only gets better with age (and with the judicious application of cures like smoke, salt, and sugar). Pigs are nothing short of a gastronomic godsend—yet their meat is banned in many cultures, and the animals themselves are generally maligned as filthy, lazy brutes.
As historian Mark Essig reveals in Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig, swine have such a bad reputation for precisely the same reasons they are so valuable as a source of food: they are
intelligent, self-sufficient, and omnivorous. What’s more, he argues, we ignore our historic partnership with these astonishing animals at our peril. Tracing the interplay of pig biology and human culture from Neolithic villages 10,000 years ago to modern industrial farms, Essig blends culinary and natural history to demonstrate the vast importance of the pig and the tragedy of its modern treatment at the hands of humans. Pork, Essig explains, has long been a staple of the human diet, prized in societies from Ancient Rome to dynastic China to the contemporary American South. Yet pigs’ ability to track down and eat a wide range of substances (some of them distinctly unpalatable to humans) and convert them into edible meat has also led people throughout history to demonize the entire species as craven and unclean. Today’s unconscionable system of factory farming, Essig explains, is only the latest instance of humans taking pigs for granted, and the most recent evidence of how both pigs and people suffer when our symbiotic relationship falls out of balance.