Pork, ham, bacon, and other pork products have been consistent parts of the American diet through most of the nation’s history, particularly among lower-income groups, for which they represent affordable sources of protein.
The first domestic pigs were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage of exploration (1493-1499). Subsequent Spanish explorers brought more swine, some of which escaped their keepers and reverted to a feral form not dissimilar to wild boars. These feral hogs became the ancestors of the razorbacks of the Ozarks.
Early English settlers in Virginia and Massachusetts also brought domestic hogs during the seventeenth century. Typically, these hogs were allowed to roam in the woods around a settlement, eating acorns and other wild foods and turning them into edible flesh. Alternatively, they could be kept in pens within farmsteads, in which case they were generally fed table scraps (slops). In areas where no good roads existed to take wagonloads of grain to market, corn was often fed to hogs, which were subsequently walked to market themselves. Because hogs ate such a wide variety of feed and their flesh could easily be preserved by salting, pork was generally the cheapest type of meat available in America. As a result, the diet of lower-income Americans was often heavy in salt pork.
By the second half of the nineteenth century, there was an increasing interest in improving hog breeds. This period marked the development of all the modern hog breed books, which keep records of purebred stock. The modern
The packing plants were also a driving force of social change.
In the twentieth century, hog farming became an increasingly specialized business. Hogs were raised in confinement buildings, often in vast numbers. Some hog farms were so large that the management of the resulting waste was a serious environmental issue, and neighbors began to fight the construction of these “pork factories.” Confinement also attracted criticism from animal-rights advocates, who regarded it as cruel and argued that it induced deleterious changes in the behavior of hogs.
Pont, Wilson G., and Katherine A. Houpt. The Biology of the Pig. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock, 1978. Rath, Sara. The Complete Pig: An Entertaining History of Pigs. Stillwater, Minn.: Voyageur Press, 2000. Watson, Lyall. The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004.
Food and Drug Administration