Author(s): Mark Essig
Unlike other barnyard animals, which pull plows, give eggs or milk, or grow wool, a pig produces only one thing: meat. Incredibly efficient at converting almost any organic matter into nourishing, delectable protein, swine are nothing short of a gastronomic godsend--yet their flesh is banned in many cultures, and the animals themselves are maligned as filthy, lazy brutes. As historian Mark Essig reveals in Lesser Beasts, swine have such a bad reputation for precisely the same reasons they are so valuable as a source of food: they are intelligent, self-sufficient, and omnivorous. What's more, he argues, we ignore our historic partnership with these astonishing animals at our peril. Tracing the interplay of pig biology and human culture from Neolithic villages 10,000 years ago to modern industrial farms, Essig blends culinary and natural history to demonstrate the vast importance of the pig and the tragedy of its modern treatment at the hands of humans. Pork, Essig explains, has long been a staple of the human diet, prized in societies from Ancient Rome to dynastic China to the contemporary American South. Yet pigs' ability to track down and eat a wide range of substances (some of them distinctly unpalatable to humans) and convert them into edible meat has also led people throughout history to demonize the entire species as craven and unclean. Today's unconscionable system of factory farming, Essig explains, is only the latest instance of humans taking pigs for granted, and the most recent evidence of how both pigs and people suffer when our symbiotic relationship falls out of balance. An expansive, illuminating history of one of our most vital yet unsung food animals, Lesser Beasts turns a spotlight on the humble creature that, perhaps more than any other, has been a mainstay of civilization since its very beginnings--whether we like it or not.
"Broad, well-researched... [An] entertaining study." --Economist "Essig presents the pig in a rich cultural context, weaving natural and social history into an engaging narrative about the lowly beast that has loomed ever so large in our collective experience." --Asheville Citizen-Times "Lesser Beasts offers readers entertainment as well as information ... [some] pages sizzle like bacon, and it's tough to set aside a book about an animal that's so close to people, in locale and in physiology." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch "A witty history of civilization told through our four-legged pork producer." --The Guardian (UK) "Essig's account is fascinating, full of erudition and nuance. He traces societal changes from the pharaohs to Walmart, using the pig. Equally, he uses history to enlarge our understanding of the domestic pig." --New Scientist (UK) "An enlightening culinary history... A lively, informative farm-to-table feast." --Kirkus Reviews "What Mark Kurlansky did for Cod, Essig might just do for swine." --Shelf Awareness "Essig presents an entertaining perspective on pigs, especially as they relate to humans. After you read this book, pigs will never seem quite the same." --Library Journal "A thoughtful book about the fascinating relationship between pigs and people, from Leviticus to Charlotte's Web. I learned something new on every page: Essig has a knack for delivering reams of information with lightness and wit, even as he makes an eloquent plea for a reformed pork industry, one where the bacon we eat comes from 'a pig that lived like a pig.' Whether you eat pork or not, Lesser Beasts is a gripping meditation on the plight of pigs." --Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork "Forget the egg. It's the pig that's incredible and edible. And Mark Essig tells the remarkable animal's checkered history with a style and verve that's as irresistible as bacon itself." --John Donohue, editor of Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families "Mark Essig tells a fine tale of the unsung exploits of the lowly pig, from the age of the pyramids and the wars of the conquistadors to the awful abattoirs and trendy restaurants of today. With clear prose and careful research, he redeems an animal that has played a seminal role in human history while enduring near universal disdain. This fascinating book provides a marvelous antidote to our unexamined views on the pig." --Andrew Lawler, author of Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization "Lesser Beasts is a delightful romp through porcine history from the Neolithic era to the present. Mark Essig offers surprising answers to the question of why humans have had such a love-hate affair with the humble pig, and unveils many other unexpected insights. Well written and well researched, Lesser Beasts is a must for historians, pork lovers, and anyone who just loves a good read." --Andrew F. Smith, editor-in-chief, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America "Pigs are omnivorous. And so is Mark Essig. From a Roman recipe for salt curing and cold smoking hams that Cato favored, to the ignoble efforts of American industrial farmers who have shown neither their pigs nor their customers respect, he has sifted the archival record to write a smart and thoroughly engaging social history of the curious entwinings of pig and man." --John T. Edge, series editor, Southern Foodways Alliance Studies in Culture, People, and Place
Mark Essig holds a PhD in US History from Cornell and is the author of Edison and the Electric Chair. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Prologue. The Magical Animal One. Keep it Simple Two. Out of the Wild Three. "The Pig is Impure" Four. "Of Their Flesh Shall Ye Not Eat" Five. "Monstrosities of Luxury" Six. The Forest Pig Seven. "Swine Eat Things Clean and Unclean" Eight. "The Husbandman's Best Scavenger" Nine. "All the Mountains Swarmed with Them" Ten. "A Great Unkindness for our Swine" Eleven. "The Benevolent Tyranny of the Pig" Twelve. "Twenty Bushels of Corn on Four Legs" Thirteen. "The Republic of Porkdom" Fourteen. "A Swinish Multitude" Fifteen. "A Growing Prejudice Against Pork" Sixteen. "The Other White Meat" Seventeen. Vices Eighteen. "Back to the Start" Epilogue. Virtuous Carnivores