The Kosher Pig – The Origins of Religious Dietary Laws

The Kosher Pig – Religious Dietary Laws

Of course there is no such thing as a kosher pig. The dietary habits of Semitic people and a few other groups, forbid the eating of pork. Also forbidden was the meat from other non-cloven hoofed, non-cud chewing animals. Pigs have cloven hoofs but don’t chew cuds so eating their flesh was prohibited by religious law. (Cud chewing simply means those animals with multiple stomach sacs, can fill their first stomach rapidly with roughly chewed food and then regurgitate it later, back into the mouth to chew it more thoroughly. The re-chewed food mass then passes through the other stomachs into the intestines. This digestive function provided a survival advantage to the ancestors of goats, sheep, cattle, camels, etc. The more rapidly they fed and were able to leave a possible dangerous location, the less likely they were to be preyed upon. Evolution provided such animals (ruminants) with an advantage over non-ruminant animals.)

The question is: Where and why did this food prohibition occur?
The answer is: Religious law is simply a reflection of God’s will. He ordered that pork shall not be consumed, end of discussion.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the real reason. Why did several ancient societies receive dietary orders from their Gods and other societies did not? Did God have favorites? Were some societies just hard of hearing? Or, are there other reasons, made clear after one has a better understanding of the survival pressures these ancient societies faced?

Among the many issues Semitic tribes faced was finding an adequate and healthy food supply. Semitic people were wanderers often in dessert, and dry environments. They had to carry everything they owned with them. They required domestic animals that could tolerate ultraviolet light and intense heat. Their animals had to walk long distances, sometimes carrying loads. They had to feed on available vegetation and survive on sparse water sources. Fortunately, most of the domesticated animals available to Semitic tribes could tolerate these harsh conditions, except swine. The poor pig had short legs and could not trek long distances; it had no hair or fur so it was susceptible to high doses of ultra violet light rays; It had a poor cooling system without sweat glands so it could not cool itself except by seeking shade or water and mud; it could not live off the land by eatting grasses and leaves; it competed with omnivorous humans for all the food both species ate; and it needed large quantities of drinking water.

One other important problem with pigs was the health issue. Although pigs are clean animals when sustained in a clean environment, they are prone to suffer from several parasitic diseases which can be passed along to humans. Other domestic animals have the same susceptibility to parasites but are useful in other ways and too valuable to be shunned by wandering tribes.

No doubt, when slaughtering animals for food, the ancients found a variety of parasitic worms in the butchered meat. Adequate roasting of infected meat removes all pathogens and makes pork a nutritious and tasty food. The fact that pigs had parasites that sickened humans was not likely the reason for the restrictions on pork as a food. More likely, it was the inability of pigs to survive the dessert conditions with a wandering tribe. Tribes that found less harsh environments that sustained pigs would have to give up their wanderings and settle down, possibly in hostile territory. The Hebrews could not settle down, they were on a mission to find the promised land. Semitic religious leaders had to invent commandments from a deity that forbad the eating of pork and the subsequent ownership of pigs. In short, pigs were a liability for nomadic tribes.

On the other hand, in the New Guinea jungle highlands, and other jungle/forest environments, pigs are the source of all wealth and a convenient food for the indigenous peoples. Pigs survived easily with minimal effort, grubbed for their own food, and did not compete with humans. Disease was not an issue.

Side note: The issues and disgust that Jews and vegans have with pork are not instinctive, they are learned. Pig flesh is high in fat but otherwise is a nutritious meat that sustains trillions of humans all over the world. If it were not a wholesome and nutritious meat, it is extremely unlikely that it would be so popular for thousands of years by so many people. Pigs have a diversified gene legacy which enables them to rapidly “devolve” back into ancestor like wild hogs from which they originally evolved.

If readers of this blog have a better explanation of the origins of Semitic dietary laws, please contact me. Thanks.

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About cgosling

I am a retired medical/scientific illustrator who has given up illustration to write about science, superstition, and secular humanism. I consider myself all of the following: atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, skeptic, and nature lover. I have several published books but the mass of my writing is unpublished. I write children's fiction, poetry, essays, and several plays and radio theater shows, that are available as free downloads to be used on secular podcasts and meetings. They can be heard on Indy Freethought Radio. I hope some of my writings will be of interest to like minded freethinkers who I cordially invite to respond.
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