This past year was not kind to pork producers.
Between trade wars and an uptick in African Swine Flu, the industry didn’t seem to be getting much of a break.
But Tuesday, February 5, marked the beginning of 15 days of celebration for the Chinese New Year—and this one’s all about you, pig.
In honor of the Year of the Pig, we’re taking a brief look at the image of our plump, pink friends through time.
You Are What You Eat
Pigs are notorious for eating anything in front of them, and this behavior drives how we view pigs worldwide. However, one scholar suggests the setting also influences our perceptions.
Historically, areas in which pigs were seen eating rotting food and trash off the streets led observers to view them as filthy pests. Areas with higher populations of Muslims and Jews also had negative perceptions of swine because of religious practices banning worshipers from eating nonruminating animals.
However, in places like Ancient Rome where pigs foraged forest floors, the wealthy ate pork as a symbol of their social status. When land development reduced the size of forests in later centuries, more pigs were displaced, leading them to infiltrate city streets. This changed Western European perceptions to view the animal as a gluttonous nuisance.
Eventually, the animal was brought to North America by early explorers where it kept its popularity with the first European colonies because of how well it thrived off corn. But the pig was still considered a nuisance—supposedly, a bunch of hogs almost destroyed the 17th-century palisade that New York City’s Wall Street was named after (how boorish!).
Bonus: Check out some of the United States’ pop culture pig icons from the past century.
Pretty in Pink
While the pig’s image has waxed and waned over the centuries, it has steadily been considered a valuable food source. That has never been truer than in China.
Chinese perceptions of swine are mostly positive, and its image is ever-present in their culture. Not only is the country the top pork producer in the world, but Mandarin speakers are reminded of their favorite protein through regular conversation: the word “meat” is the same as “pork” and the word for “family” includes the character for “hog” under a symbol for “roof.” That makes the Lunar New Year, where festivities center around family, even more significant for those celebrating over the next several days.
Although the pork industry has some uncertainties ahead of it, many will celebrate the wealth and optimism attributed to the twelfth zodiac sign and wish happiness to others in the new year—Gongxi, Gongxi, Gongxi ni ya!
VIDEO: Find out why pork’s popularity in China has grown exponentially in recent years.
By Kimberly Nelson
Photo credit: Yair Ventura Filho
Video credit: The Economist
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