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Pork is meat from the pig. While it is one of the most common meats consumed by the Chinese and Europeans, and to some extent North Americans, it is not considered kosher under Islamic and Orthodox Jewish law.

Varieties of pork

Pork from the haunch of the pig is called ham. Bacon is taken from the sides, back, or belly, and is extremely popular in the US as breakfast food. Pork intestines are called chitterlings or chitlings. Other eaten parts include pork shoulder, pork chops, pork neckbones, and pigs' feet. Pork is very high in thiamin.

Pork is particularly common as an ingredient of sausage. Chorizo, fuet, and salami are sausages typically made with pork. Scrapple is another aggregate meat-food derived from pigs.

In the United States, some pork products figured prominently in the traditional diets of poor southerners, such as pigs' feet, hog jowls, and other parts not wanted by wealthy southerners, because they were both available to them and affordable for the very poor. (See soul food).

Pork products are often cured by salt (pickling) and smoking. The portion most often given this treatment is the ham, or [rear] haunch of the pig; pork shoulder, or front haunch, is also sometimes cured in this manner.

The pork taboo

Both Muslim dietary laws and Orthodox Jewish (Kashrut) dietary laws forbid pork, making it a taboo meat. There are several explanations for this.

Maimonides was the first to point that these dietary restrictions may have been created to prevent trichinosis, which can be caught from undercooked pork.

Others point to pigs being unclean, but pigs like to bathe frequently to keep cool. It's when they don't find water that they have to use mud or their own feces. Other meat beasts are as dirty as pigs.

For others, the restriction is arbitrary, a way to test the faith.

The cultural materialistic anthropologist Marvin Harris thinks that the main reason was ecological-economical. Pigs require water and shade woods with seeds, but those conditions are scarce in Israel and Arabia. They cannot forage grass like ruminants. They compete then with humans for expensive grain.

Hence a Middle Eastern society keeping large stocks of pigs would destroy their ecosystem. Harris points out how, while the sedentary Hebrews are also forbidden to eat camels and fish without scales, Arab nomads couldn't afford to starve in the desert while having camels around.

He also points to Albania where a cycle is established: Christians keep pigs and live in the oak woods. Muslims keep goats and live in denuded places. The goats maintain this status by eating saplings.

Archaeological significance

The relevance of the pork taboo for archaeologists is that the teeth of cooked pigs are highly resilient to biodegradation. This facilitates the pinpointing of the moment at which Islam took hold, for example, at points along the Indonesian archipelago. Plentiful pig's teeth are found in digs of pre-Islamic settlements. Pig's teeth disappear from the traces as soon as Islam is adopted. See Maluku for a case in point.

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