Welcome to the year of the pig. I'll have a granddaughter born during this year, and according to Zodiac lore, she will grow up to be diligent, compassionate, and generous. And she will be calm during troubled times. On the other hand, she will also try to do everything on her own without asking for help, and she will be gullible. We'll see.
In the real world, few people want to be known as "pigs" or "hogs" or "porkers." A "ball-hog" is the guy on your basketball team that never lets anyone else shoot. A guy gets called a pig if he calls a woman by a demeaning name. A person who is respectfully referred to as "portly" is more rudely known as a "porker." The kid who never picks up her room is a "pig," as is the teenaged boy who doesn't leave enough food on the table for the rest of the family. Anarchists like to call cops "pig," a derisive term also applied to any establishment figure...or rich person.
In Chinese legend, the pig isn't the brightest animal. In one old story, the Emperor Jade called all the animals for a conference. When the meeting was about over, the pig finally showed up. It turns out that he got hungry along the way, stopped to eat, and then fell asleep afterward. There are also legends about the pig being easily seduced by beautiful women.
But it seems that the year of the pig is a time for us to say something nice about the creature. So, here goes:
The domestic pig is one of the most important sources of food in the world. It is estimated that there are about 2 billion pigs in the world, (the same count as the number of Christians. Sorry, I just couldn't think of anything else right off hand that at 2 billion of something. ) And we can thank China for being the first place on earth to domesticate the pig...about 9,000 years ago.
The world still hosts a variety of wild pigs, the largest species being the Giant Forest Hog (found in the wooded areas of several central African countries.) And the smallest pig species is the pygmy hog, weighing less than 20 pounds. The largest pig ever recorded in the U.S. was "Big Norm," from Hubbardsville, New York. But the Poles get the gold medal when it comes to pigs: their own "Big Bill" weighed in at over a ton and was 9 feet long. (I got that off the internet, except that "Bill" just doesn't sound very Polish to me.)
As the Chinese celebrated their New Year (this past Monday and Tuesday) one of the cartoons circulating on the internet pictured a pig showing up at a tattoo parlor. He wanted a tattoo that would make him look rich. So they simply put a black stripe down his back...making him look like a piggy bank.
There are some general misconceptions about pigs, especially in regard to their reputation for bad hygiene and low intelligence. Pigs are considered among the most intelligent of animals, right up there with apes and dolphins. It is said that a piglet can learn its own name at the age of two weeks. And despite a hog's proclivity to wallow in mud, pigs are particular about cleanliness. The mud helps cool their body temperatures (since their sweat glands are inferior) and it also helps keep parasites away.
A pig can run a 7 minute mile (better than me) and squeal at 115 decibels (a jet plane takes off at 112 decibels.) They not only provide meat (who doesn't love bacon?) but also are the sources of some insulin, heart valves for humans, antifreeze, fertilizer, makeup, soap, clothing, paintbrush bristles, and footballs. And here in Illinois, we are number 2 in the nation in pork production, only behind Iowa. (North Carolina and Minnesota are just behind us.) Harry Truman once said that "No man should be allowed to be president who does not understand hogs."
When I was in grade school, my dad invited a nearby farmer to butcher a hog at our house. It was quite a mess...and I wasn't allowed to stay around very much. And when I was in high school (my dad was pastor of a country church, and we lived out in the country in a parsonage that had a two-acre yard) a farmer gave us a runt pig to raise. We called him "Arnold" (the pig, not the farmer) and put our new livestock inside the fence with the pony. Arnold took to standing under the pony every time it rained. Smart pig. But he also learned how to crawl up the fence and escape, spending his free time
rooting up our yard. He was not our favorite pet. Plus, he had an unpleasant personality. We were only mildly
disconcerted to eventually eat him.
Pigs were considered unclean in the Bible, and certainly not to be eaten. But Christians think they have discovered a loophole...and so now we all enjoy BBQ ribs and bacon with our eggs.
To all my readers: Happy Chinese New Year. And long live the pig. --Mike