I found myself face to face with a bacon sandwich this sunny morn which got me thinking about our place on the food chain, evolutionarily secured by our brainy ability to stand back and hurl rocks at things. God forbid some smart porker sits back one day and learns how to sharpen a stick, or construct a rudimentary firearm. They eat anything, pigs, even us, given half a chance.
According to Reay Tannahil’s Food in History, the Jewish ‘clean meats’, as laid out in the kashrut – Jewish dietary laws – were those that ate grass, ‘chewed the cud’ (in other words, regurgitating food for an extra refining chew) and had cloven hooves (hooves with two toes). All three requirements have to be ticked off before the stamp of approval can be given.
Pigs fall short of these standards, and are rendered unclean. So it turns out that their not unclean just because a pig in shit is as happy as, well, a pig in shit. And here I was thinking that giving my local pig farmer a decent shampoo, shower gel and candle bathroom hamper from Boots might be enough to warrant admission into the ‘clean’ category. But it cannot be so. Indeed, a lot is required to make a dedicated Jew eat pork, or any of the other unclean foods like camel, hawk, tortoise, vulture, ferret, chameleon…. As Bertrand Russel recounts in his History of Philosophy, the ancient King Antiochus IV tried to lure some imprisoned Jews into impiety by offering them a nice plate of pork. When they refused, they were heartily tortured.
A dollop of ketchup goes on the bacon sandwich, and I’m happy to live in a time and place where eating pork or deciding not to passes without judgement. Yes, we enlightened contemporary western diners are free to consume pretty much anything without prejudice. Just so long as it’s not that Quorn stuff, bloody veggies.