‘Rightly is they called pigs,’ says a farmworker in Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow as he watches porkers grunt and squelch. Pía Spry-Marqués has no time for such nominative determinism. ‘Pigs,’ she points out, ‘are in fact quite clean animals.’ Wallowing in mud isn’t nostalgie de la boue, merely the only way of keeping cool if no shade or fresh water is available.
God disagrees with her. ‘The swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you,’ he tells Moses and Aaron in Leviticus. While most Muslims and Jews still go along with this (as do Rastafarians, much to the dismay of pork-loving Snoop Dogg when he converted a few years ago), Roman Catholics defy the edict so insatiably (except on Fridays in Lent) that they may well be the world champion pig-guzzlers. The average Spaniard’s annual consumption is twice ours: 51.6kg (114lb), equivalent to 516 trays of sliced chorizo for every Spanish woman, man and child.
Growing up in Madrid, Pía Spry-Marqués ate pork galore. But what if she had also watched Peppa Pig? She writes:
A Spanish friend of mine,’ she writes, ‘recently told me how her niece, on finding out that chorizo is made from pork, decided she no longer wanted to eat it because she didn’t want to hurt Peppa or anyone from the family.
That set Spry-Marqués thinking about how little we know of the animals whose flesh we devour so greedily — and prompted her to write a scholarly but quirky history, the most cherishable work of pig-lit since Augustus Whiffle’s The Care of the Pig. From an 18,000-year-old wild boar’s tooth to a recipe for swine testicles with garlic, nothing piggy is alien to her.