The Influence of Pork

The pig began to be domesticated about 5000 years ago (Stern et al 402). Due to industrialization, the domestication of pigs has now become one focused on quantity rather than producing quality. Between 1990 and 1999, over 650,000 U.S. hog producers left the business because of the dramatic industrial transformation it was undergoing. Only 13% of the total number of producers that were present 25 years prior remained. (Thu 1). In a small village in China, only 125 of the 217 households that used to produce pigs in large quantities could only afford to raise two pigs or less (Jian 63). These changes in pork production have adversely affected communities all over the world, leading further stratification and class divisions. By simultaneously examining pork not only through local, national, and global levels but also through the systems of power embedded into the cultures that rely on pork production, one can truly come to understand the problems that sustainable pork producers are facing today.


Agency & Access

  1. Clare Hinrichs and Rick Welsh’s article “The Effects of the Industrialization of US Livestock Agriculture on Promoting Sustainable Production Practices” brings up farmers’ inability to change much of their situation due to forces outside of their control. As they put it, “as larger numbers of producers and stages of production within a commodity system become industrialized, the relevance of a pasture-based system diminishes and/or the producer loses the ability to choose an alternative production system and still retain access to conventional agricultural markets” (Hinrichs 135). By this, Hinrichs and Welsh acknowledge that it is extremely difficult for a small farm to continue to survive while industrialization takes over the market. This places farmers in an extremely difficult position, because they are left to either cater to those who can afford more expensive pork or to no longer produce at all.

Hinrichs and Welsh’s article also addresses an important point about the elitism that comes with sustainable pork production. Who currently has access to sustainable, pasture-raised pork? While Hinrichs and Welsh commend any kind of approach to alternative production, they bring up how traditional production methods “[remain] problematic in its dependence on comparatively small niche markets, mostly targeted to elites” (Hinrichs 131). What does that lack of access mean for communities who prefer to eat sustainable pork but cannot afford it? It would mean that they are trapped in depending on the industrially-produced pork. As Kendall M. Thu writes, “we need to locate the levers of political power and figure out how to move them” in order to address these issues of social equity (Kendall 6).  Kendall does a better job of making sure that is the solution proposed then Hinrichs and Welsh do in their papers. Hinrichs and Welsh do not take a permanent stance when it comes to addressing these issues, but they do present both sides of the argument.


The Power of Ritual

In Hawai’i, the pig is considered “one of the most potent sacrificial offerings.” Michael J. Kolb goes on to write that no other domesticated animal to be sacrificed was “as sacred as the pig because the pig uniquely embodied the pastoral nature of human life and possessed a psychological identification with its owner” (Kolb 91). Because of its extreme importance when it came to sacrifices, the pig was highly valued and “usually restricted to higher status individuals” (Kolb 92). It would have been considered taboo for a commoner to indulge in eating a pig. “Ritual feasting,” Kolb goes on to add, “therefore represented a primary means of exerting chiefly control through resplendent social displays that materially link the surplus economy to ideological power” (102).  Through this, a targeted group in the community becomes indefinitely subjugated to those in power as long as the political system remains the same. Sidney W. Mintz and Christin M. Du Bois write that rituals can be seen “as a mechanism for maintaining ecological balance in local environments and/or for redistributing food”, and either reinforcing or questioning power relations and access (Mintz 109). This claim is backed up by Kolb’s work in examining the Hawai’i culture.

Katherine A. Spielmann’s text “Feasting, Craft Specialization, and the Ritual Mode of Production in Small-Scale Societies” takes a different stance when it comes to the influence of elitism on a community and its economy. The need for socially valued goods creates the demand that sustains the economy in these small-scale societies that Spielmann is studying. When the demand becomes “large-scale”, specialization comes about. Because these societies rely on ritual modes of production, there emphasis on “superlative performance and participation”, not on profits. It is used as a means to sustain social relations (Spielmann 197). Spielmann’s work has many foci, from feasting to skilled crafting to talking about the organization of production. A more lengthy focus on one aspect of small-scale societies could have aided in more in-depth understanding.


Specific Culture and World Views

Brad Weiss makes the connection between pastured pigs, the importance of “local food” and culture in his paper “Making Pigs Local: Discerning the Sensory Character of Place.” Weiss makes the argument that local food in general allows for new investments that have significant value in a culture. Furthermore, Weiss explains how what a pig is fed affects its taste, and how some believe “local will always trump any other label” (Weiss 439). Weiss also talks about the importance of being knowledgeable about how a pig is raised. Weiss gives a strong voice to those who prefer local production, which is granted given the nature of the piece, but Weiss could have also included the voice of those who do not care for local food and its exclusivity. What about those who prefer local foods but cannot afford it? That is an important dimension that researchers such as Kendall try to address.

Brian Hayden’s paper “The Dynamics of Wealth and Poverty in the Transegalitarian Societies of Southeast Asia” examines the generating of wealth in Southeast Asian communities. More specifically, this article talks about how the domestication of animals has helped in generating inequalities. Because of the important role that domestic animals play in feasting for example, “considerable socioeconomic and political inequality” arises (Hayden 571). There are also many constraints that household farmers face in domesticating animals, which Hayden begins to explore. When it comes to pig domestication, Hayden states that in order to have a decent pig population, households need to produce food in surplus. That not being the case leads to inequality in the community, even though the emic group claims that everyone is equal. Hayden’s paper is strong in communicating the case of the Southeast Asian community, but does not extend the research done to the outside world. He hesitates to make a “general conclusion” about the poor and why they “live the way they do” in his conclusion.

In China, Li Jian analyzes the declining population of pig farmers in rural areas of Southwest China. It also presents the reader with five reasons as to why this change has been occurring more dramatically over the years, those five reasons being “labor shortage, low cash return, disuse of pig manure, lack of veterinary services, and policy failures” (Jian 63). It attempts to answer the question of what specific help farmers need in order to deal with the political, economic, and physical issues they are presented with, such as help combating pig disease, protecting their animals, and safeguarding production. Jian makes a strong point when he writes “only by understanding obstacles to household pig farming and developing strategies to eliminate then can we help small farmers in China and elsewhere in the developing world revitalize their pigpens” (Jian 74).


Environmental Concerns

Susanne Stern covers different scenarios dealing with the Swedish domestic production of pigs in her paper “Sustainable Development of Food Production: A Case S. These scenarios are then evaluated on an economic, environmental, and animal welfare stance. The scenarios are as follows: 1) A focus on animal welfare and natural behavior of the animals, 2) a focus on lowering impact on the environment and efficient use of natural resources, and 3) a focus on product quality and safety. It is interesting that Stern presents these three scenarios in such a way that implies that all scenarios cannot be done simultaneously. Furthermore, Stern also concludes by asserting that pig production will not decrease globally, but that changes will arise from a “dialog among consumers, society, and producers” all while being seen from “a global perspective” (Stern 407). Stern’s work is limited because it does not address the cultural values a pig might have to community and how sustainable development allows for the passing down of traditions (i.e. family farms). It only addresses the economic and environmental concerns.

Kathryn M. Orzech and Mark Nichter’s paper “From Resilience to Resistance: Political Ecological Lessons from Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance” focuses on the effects that antibiotics have on not only humans but plants and animals as well. The article intends to make an argument on how antibiotics and antibiotic resistance will play a role globally and in the future. Orzech & Nichter bring up the danger of acquiring antibiotic resistant bacteria through contamination, a reality very much present in the domestication of hogs. Furthermore, “those farms that used antibiotic containing food for their pigs had a higher percentage of resistant isolates,” meaning that they would be more susceptible to certain kinds of bacteria (Orzech 272). These practices remained unchanged by most companies because they are too costly. Because this paper only has a small section on the use of antibiotics on animals, a more direct study should be done on its effects on pigs, and how that will affect production. Nevertheless, Orzech and Nichter do an acceptable job of presenting the dangers, it is just a matter of working against fostering resistance.



The domestication of pigs has been around for thousands of years, and so has its influence on cultures all around the world. As Kolb, Jian and Hayden point out, there are societies who extremely value the pig, whether it is valued solely as a food source or as a sacrificial offering. Hinrichs, Welsh, and Hayden address the underlying issues that come with being able to continue to produce sustainably in a world that is becoming dominated by the mass production of pigs. Weiss points out that there are communities that still value locally raised animals, but then that raises the questions of access, which is one any anthropologist should be concerned about. Finally, Stern, Nichter and Orzech address the environmental issues concerned with sustainably producing pork, and how that affects communities in the short term and long run.



Hayden, Brian. “The Dynamics of Wealth and Poverty in the Transegalitarian Societies of Southeast Asia.” Antiquity 75, no. 289 (September 2001): 571–81.

Hinrichs, C. Clare, and Rick Welsh. “The Effects of the Industrialization of US Livestock Agriculture on Promoting Sustainable Production Practices.” Agriculture and Human Values 20, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 125–41.

Jian, Li. “The Decline of Household Pig Farming in Rural Southwest China: Socioeconomic Obstacles and Policy Implications.” Culture & Agriculture 32, no. 2 (December 1, 2010): 61–77. doi:10.1111/j.1556-486X.2010.01037.x.

Kolb, Michael J. “Staple Finance, Ritual Pig Sacrifice, and Ideological Power in Ancient Hawai’i.” Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 9, no. 1 (January 1, 1999): 89–107. doi:10.1525/ap3a.1999.9.1.89.

Mintz, Sidney W., and Christine M. Du Bois. “The Anthropology of Food and Eating.” Annual Review of Anthropology 31, no. 1 (2002): 99–119. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.32.032702.131011.

Orzech, Kathryn M., and Mark Nichter. “From Resilience to Resistance: Political Ecological Lessons from Antibiotic and Pesticide Resistance.” Annual Review of Anthropology 37, no. 1 (2008): 267–82. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.37.081407.085205.

Spielmann, Katherine A. “Feasting, Craft Specialization, and the Ritual Mode of Production in Small-Scale Societies.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 1 (March 2002): 195–207.

Stern, Susanne, Ulf Sonesson, Stefan Gunnarsson, Ingrid Öborn, and et al. “Sustainable Development of Food Production: A Case Study on Scenarios for Pig Production.” Ambio 34, no. 4/5 (June 2005): 402–7.

Thu, Kendall M. “Agriculture, the Environment, and Sources of State Ideology and Power.” Culture & Agriculture 23, no. 1 (March 1, 2001): 1–7. doi:10.1525/cag.2001.23.1.1.

Weiss, Brad. “Making Pigs Local: Discerning the Sensory Character of Place.” Cultural Anthropology 26, no. 3 (August 1, 2011): 438–61. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01106.x.

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