Pigs have been with us a long time, first being domesticated in Asia over 9000 years ago. These omnivores are one of the oldest domesticated animals, behind only dogs and goats. They moved through the Near East, and eventually to Europe, where they made their biggest leap of all, when Spain introduced them to the Americas on Columbus’s second voyage. The Spanish explorers brought pigs with them to eat on their long voyage and left many of them in the New World, where no large domesticated animals had existed before. Hernando de Soto, who explored what is today the southeastern United States, is often called the father of the American pork industry, as he brought 200 of them on his expedition. Those first pigs are the ancestors of both the farmed pigs and the feral pigs, or wild boar, that cause an estimated $1.5 billion with a B in damage in the US every year. Their rooting for food can tear up farmland and recreation areas, they trample crops, push out other wildlife, and can carry diseases that spread to domesticated animals.
Every continent has some population of pigs, except Antarctica. The pig is perfectly suited to domestication. Pigs are very fertile; sows can give birth to 15 piglets a year, which mature in as little as six months. Pigs are three times more efficient at converting plant material to meat than cows. Because they’re omnivores, they are handy on family farms are natural garbage disposals. They aren’t indiscriminate eaters, though. I can tell you from my experience in fattening my own pigs while raising goats, they are actually quite picky. Once my Tamworth pigs, Hamish and Spamantha, got used to having fresh milk poured over their food they wouldn’t eat without it. Pigs are also useful as self-propelled plows. Give a few pigs access to a field that needs turning, and they’ll get the ground properly churned up in their search for buried roots and nuts. If they’re lucky, they’ll find a spring to make themselves a waller of mud to roll in. The mud is strategic to keep them cool because they don’t have sweat glands and create a barrier between their skin and the sun as well as biting insects. Pigs are actually quite clean. They are the only livestock I’ve met who stop eating and move away from their food to have a poo.
Traditionally, pigs were classified as one of two types: lard and bacon/meat. Compact and thick with short legs, the lard pigs fatten up quickly and their meat has large amounts of fat in it. Lard-type pigs were used to produce lard, which has a terrible modern reputation but is essential for perfect pie crusts and tamales. Lard was used as a mechanical lubricant before synthetics were invented and was in such demand during World War II in the manufacture of explosives, that people switched to vegetable oils to support the war effort. After the war, those vegetables oils were successfully marketed as healthier fats, and lard’s days were numbered. As a result, many of the lard-type pigs went out of fashion and their breeds became scarce. Bacon or meat pigs are lean and long-bodied, and they tend to grow slower than lard pigs, and put on more muscle than fat. When lard-type pigs became passé, breeders turned to the leaner types to produce lean pork, and sadly, very little lard. That’s why grocery store pork is so dry; another good reason to hit your local farmers market or mom&pop butcher.
Bonus fact: For a mammal’s meat to be kosher for Jewish people, it must have cloven hooves and chew it cud. Cow and goat make the cut, while pigs, who don’t chew cud, are traif, or forbidden. In Islam, it’s called haram, but the Qu’ran does make an exception that Muslims may eat pork if it’s that or starvation.
Pigs also get into our bodies by way of medicine. Pigs are important to medical research. Their anatomy and physiology closely resemble that of humans, making them excellent matches for research in many areas, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, metabolic, liver, reproductive and infectious disease. They have also helped researchers learn more about drug addiction and wound healing. The similarity means scientists achieve more relevant and significant findings than with research using other animals like rats or rabbits. Not only do pigs contribute to the development of medical technology, they’re even organ donors. Only half of people are registered organ donors and only about a third of people die in such a way that leaves viable organs. This means a tragic number of people who die while waiting for organs.
Because demand outweighs supply, especially where it pertains to the heart with the increase in heart diseases, researchers have looked to xenotransplantation — placing animal organs into human bodies. However, xenotransplantation comes with many complications can occur, so getting to the point of human trials has been difficult. In 2018, a breakthrough by researchers at the University of Munich brings us one step closer to a day when organ shortages are a thing of the past, by developing technique allowing baboons to survive significantly longer than ever before with transplanted pig hearts. Despite 25 years of attempts, the longest a baboon had survived after receiving a pig heart was 57 days. The new method, involving a modified transplant protocol and gene therapy to reduce immune reactions, has allowed a baboon to survive six months. They also get the waiting hearts at a less-cold temperature and intermittently pumped in oxygenated, blood-based solution containing nutrients and hormones. There were a number of problems to overcome beyond the immune system attacking the new organ. Although pig hearts are very similar to human and primate hearts, they are much bigger and are prone to complications arising from interspecies hormonal and blood pressure differences. What’s worse, the hearts could continue to grow to a size larger than the recipient’s body can support. Although much more study is needed before researchers can begin xenotransplantation trials in humans, the researchers are optimistic it’s on the horizon.
RT and tag: Charles with a hammer, most stable genius, Eric, Richard, Alphabet Flight, Lie Hard, SYY, Augie Peterson, Self–Hero of Tennessee
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In case you were somehow unfamiliar with the best-selling Charlotte’s Web, it tells the story of a runt pig named Wilbur who is protected from the butcher’s block by the farmer’s daughter Fern and a marketing-minded barn spider named Charlotte and is based, at least a little, in reality. Author E. B. White raised geese, sheep, and pigs on his farm in Maine. Though the pigs were destined for slaughter, White found himself caring for a little sick piggie, calling a vet for it and staying up all night. Picture the scene in Babe that culminated with James Cromwell breaking into song. Unfortunately, White’s pig didn’t make it. Even though all of the pigs were destined to die, the death of this one bothered White more than he would have expected. Combine that experience with White’s finding a spider egg sack in his bar, putting it in a box on his dresser and watching the new spiders with fascination, and you’ve got the makings of a classic. Coming seven years after the success of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web was a huge success, selling 100,000 copies in 16 months. The book was a surprise to White’s editor, who didn’t even know he had a story in the works when he dropped the only extant copy off in her office. To ensure nothing could happen to it, she sat down and read it on the spot. White also never explained to her his specific motivation for writing the book. “I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.”
Bonus fact: if you’ve ever been in the midst of a writing assignment and had to refer to the Strunk and White Elements of Style, it’s the same White.
Those who have only seen the 1973 animated institution starring Debbie Reynolds as the voice of Charlotte but not read the book may not know that Charlotte has a full name. While writing the book, White called the spider Charlotte Epeira because he misidentified the spider in his barn as a gray cross spider, Epeira sclopetaria, but he checked with American Museum of Natural History and found out she was araneus cavaticus, the common barn spider. Thus, his spider was renamed Charlotte A. Cavatica. Some parents and teachers criticized to book for having a character die, even though that character is a spider, and Hollywood execs felt the same, wanting a happy ending for the story. White held firm that Charlotte’s death was essential to the story and in the end, he won. The cartoon remains faithful to the book. Sure it was sad, but […] Charlotte also almost had a human face, because that’s not terrifying. The book’s illustrator tried to make her look like a woman, drawing her with a face like the Mona Lisa. Both the author and the publisher put the kibosh on that.
Pigs are a bigger part of pop culture than you might think. I could do an entire series on fictitious porkers, but let’s run down some rapid-fire facts. [peppy/game show music]
Miss Piggy’s original name was Piggy Lee, a play on the singer Peggy Lee. Her rival for Kermit’s affections on the Muppet show was a younger pig named Annie Sue.
Like Winnie the Pooh, Piglet was based on a toy the real-life Christopher Robin owned and first appeared in print in 1926, making him two years older than Mickey Mouse. Piglet says he had a great-grandfather named Trespasser Williams, which is why there’s a sign that says “Trespassers W” in front of his house. Most likely, it used to read “trespassers will be prosecuted.”
Classic TV swine star Arnold on Green Acres was the only member of the cast to win an acting award, in his case a Patsy, which is like an animal Oscar, which you can hear more about on episode 75, title, pt 1 (boy, this episode is getting self-referential). Arnold not only played by multiple pigs, but most of them were female, because sows grow more slowly, so they have to be replaced less often.
Everybody loves the winged horse Pegasus, but almost no one knows his brother, the winged boar, Chrysoar. Both are the offspring of Poseidon and Medusa and appeared when Perseus beheaded Medusa. Chrysaor doesn’t appear much in any stories that survived, save for being a stout-hearted warrior whose his name means “he who bears a golden sword”.
Pumbaa means “to be foolish, silly, or weak minded” in Swahili. While Timon’s best bro is voiced by Ernie Sabella, the character is drawn as a female. Male warthogs have four protrusions or warts on their faces, while females only have two, which is how Pumba was drawn.
Waddles on Gravity Fall was voiced by Neil de Grasse Tyson when he temporarily became of genius.
Peppa Pig had an episode pulled after its initial airing in Australia, after Peppa is shown befriending a spider. A parent wrote in saying that was a bad idea, considering the variety and severity of venomous spiders down under. “A” parent. Not even a number, a letter of the alphabet.
On Dragonball Z, characters must collect 7 dragon balls so the dragon Shen Long can grant them a wish, usually bringing people back to life *cough* Krillin *cough*. Oolong, who looks basically like Porky Pig dressed like Chairman Mao, once used up a dragonball wish to get his hands on ladies panties.
Babe was originally voiced by the actress who did Chuckie Finster on Rugrats, but her salary demands for the sequel saw her replaced with the actress who voiced Tommy Pickles. Though James Cromwell was nominated for an Oscar, Farmer Hoggett only spoke 16 lines, the most famous of which is only three words long, “That’ll do, pig.” 48 piglets in succession, and one animatronic, played the role of Babe. There were nearly 1,000 animals in the production all told. Sales of pork products dropped sharply after the movie came out, though the demand for pet pigs, and breeding to meet said demand, jumped. Cromwell himself even went vegetarian.
Jean St. Arnuald and tease tier tweak, Spot the lie next week, allowed me to upgrade mic.
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Interesting pig stories aren’t just the province of fiction. They have remarkable footnotes in history, and if you’re talking history, odds are good there’s a war on. In December 1914, the British Royal Navy defeated the Imperial German Navy at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The only German warship that managed to escape was the SMS Dresden. It fled south and reached the Chilean island of Más a Tierra. With Allied cruisers in hot pursuit and no chance of escape, the Germans scuttled, or deliberately sank, their own ship. While some British sailors began to round up the shipwrecked survivors, others climbed into smaller boats to look for salvage. Among other things, they salvaged a dinghy, oars, a boathook, buoys, six chairs, hammocks, brooms, fenders, “a cask of red wine undamaged by its immersion in the sea,” and one pig.
The pig had been the mascot aboard the Dresden, but had apparently been forgotten about as the German sailors abandoned ship. She managed to make her way topside, lept into the water, and swam for all she was worth. A petty officer from the HMS Glasgow rescued the pig and the crew used a winch to get her onto their ship. Even though the pig was a sow, i.e. a lady pig, the British sailors christened Tirpitz, after Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, head of the German navy, and facetiously awarded her the Iron Cross for being the last one to flee the sinking ship.
She lived a charmed life onboard the Glasgow for a time, before being moved to the Royal Navy’s training facility in Portsmouth Harbour, where she lived with chickens, ducks, and the like. But Tirpitz wasn’t cut out for early retirement. She made a right nuisance of herself, even breaking down the chicken runs to eat their food. Ten men wrestled her into a van and she was returned to the captain of the Glasgow, though he was then commodore of the Royal Naval Air Service Training Establishment. He must not have known what to do with his twice-surprise pig, because he ordered her to be sold, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross. It wasn’t a terrible plan. Tirpitz’s fame led to a final sale price of 400 guineas or around $30,000 in today’s money. We’re not sure what her life was like between then and her death in 1919 under the ownership of William Cavendish-Bentink, 6th Duke of Portland. Just as the British army did with the courageous and perforated pigeon Cher Ami, who you can hear about in episode 23, Tirpitz was taxidermied. Her head, anyway, which was donated to the Imperial War Museum in London where you can still see her today.
Tirpitz doesn’t have a monopoly on swimming swine. There are so many paddling piggies on Big Major Cay Island in the Bahamas that “Pig Island.” the island is in Exuma, Bahamas. There are 365 islands in Exuma and they’re called the Cays. The nickname for this island has become more well-known than its actual name at this point. The two dozen or so pigs are doing alright for themselves on the island devoid of human residents who might otherwise care for them. There are no homes on the island and the Bahamian government controls the flow of tourists, to preserve the natural conditions. The pigs, like the island, have always been wild. You can visit the pigs on a guided day trip, but don’t plan to stay over–there are no buildings on the island.
But where did they come from? No one knows for sure. Some people think that people once lived on the island and had pigs as pets or livestock; or that these pigs are descendents of Spanish sea-faring pigs who survived a shipwreck. Despite their mysterious origins and the lack of human inhabitants of the island, the pigs are really quite friendly, though some of that may be from associating visitors with free food. That being said, if you go to Pig Beach, please don’t feed the pigs. They’re used to a certain diet, the native plants they forage for, and throwing them slim jims and cruise ship buffet leftovers could upset their stomachs. Plus, if they come to rely on humans too much for food, they won’t forage properly on their own.
If you venture to neighboring Allen’s Cay, you’ll find a population of friendly iguanas. They’re referred to as the Allen’s Cay iguanas, but their proper name is the Northern Bahamian Rock iguanas. These iguanas are exclusive to three islands in Exuma, of which Allen’s Cay is the largest — you can’t find them anywhere else in the world.
Tourism to the island has its upsides and downsides. While the pigs love the food and attention, knowing that tourists mean food, the pigs have veered away from their habitat in the green vegetation of the forest and out onto the barren, sandy beach, which isn’t really sustainable for them. Not only is there no food, but they’re exposed to the sunlight without shade. Sunburn is a real problem for pigs. It can get so bad that their skin begins to break down in a condition called greasy pig, for which my English-Irish-German-Czech self can sympathise. So if you got to pig island, choose a reputable guide and do what they tell you.
Of all the social movements to be lost to history, one of the more interesting of modern times is the Youth Int’l Party, the Yippies. The Yippies were a theatrical, anarchist adjunct of the free speech and anti-war protest of the 1960’s. At the famously riotous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Yippies put forth their own nominee for president, chosen by counter-culture icons Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin–a 145lb/66kg hog named Pigasus the Immortal. His name was a play on the mythical winged horse, of course,but also a nod to the old saying “when pigs fly.” As themes go, a pig in politics isn’t much of a stretch. Editorial cartoonists had pictured corrupt politicians and police as pigs since the earliest days of newspapers. The Yippies had come to Chicago to protest the escalating war in Vietnam and the failures of local, state and the federal government to racially integrate. According to the Yippies, “They nominate a president and he eats the people. We nominate a president and the people eat him.” “if we can’t have him in the White House, we can have him for breakfast.”
The plan was to run a pig, have some laughs, and show people how ineffectual the government could be. This may sound like a lark, but there was nothing levitous about the Chicago DNC or 1968 in general. More than 100 riots had taken place that year and both MLK and RFK had been assassinated. Anti-war protestors from all over the country converged on the city to find12,000 thousand police, 7,500 Army troops and 6,000 National Guardsmen waiting for them.
Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, Pigasus’ candidacy was short-lived. No sooner had Rubin begun the Yippie’s press conference than police swarmed in and arrest him, Hoffman, and six others, soon to be known as The Chicago Eight, for conspiring to incite violence and crossing state lines with the intent to riot. Their trials were covered by all three TV networks and every major newspaper in the country. After a length trial and multiple appeals, all charges were dismissed, though the only non-white Yippie to be arrested, Bobby Seale, was sentenced to four years for contempt of court. What wasn’t important enough to go out on the wire service was the fate of the candidate, Pigasus the Immortal. Sources vary as to what ultimately happened to the political porker. We know he arrived that Pigasus arrived at the convention in a station wagon with seven Yippies and left in a police paddy wagon with an unspecified number of officers. The Chicago Tribune reported that Pigasus was transported to the Anti-Cruelty Society, along with a sow called “Mrs. Pigasus”, and a piglet, all collected from demonstrations around the time of the convention, and transferred to a farm in Grayslake, Illinois. The article did nothing to quash the persistent rumor that the Chicago police department cooked and ate Pigasus the Immortal.
And that’s where we run out of ideas, at least for today, though I will circle back around to one of the first pigs most of us ever lay eyes on — our piggy bank. A well-circulated story holds that the name comes from the word “p-y-g-g”, a kind of orange pottery clay. But it might also have started with the Scottish word piggin for a wooden (or sometimes earthenware) pail or be related to prig, a dialect term for a small pitcher. It could have been influenced by the animal pig, because certain round items, like hot-water bottles, are shaped kind vaguely like and were even referred to as pigs. Scots also named their coin banks pirly pigs, probably from the older Scots pyrl, to thrust or poke, suggesting the action of inserting a coin. What we do know is the first print ad for a pig-shaped bank ran in The Oregonian on 10 Nov. 1900 and would set you back a whopping $.25. Thanks for spending part of your day with me.