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Things you might not know: The Scottish Pork Taboo

We take a look at a theory you might not know about - that traditionally the people of Scotland had an aversion to pork.

Published: February 25, 2016

First coined by journalist Donald Alexander Mackenzie, the Scottish pork taboo discusses the apparent aversion to pig meat among Scots, in particular Highlanders, which apparently stemmed from ancient times.

The Theory

Mackenzie first gave a lecture in 1920 on the subject, stating that the taboo had originated in pre-Roman times, with Scottish clans being influenced by Celtic mercenaries, who in turn were influenced by the cult of Attis in Anatolia (now in Turkey).

The evidence

This aversion meant that the Scots were almost exclusively alone in Northern Europe in their exclusion of pig meat from their natural diet. Indeed none of the other Celtic races or indeed the Scandinavians had any such prejudice towards pork.

Indeed Mackenzie himself confirmed he also had an aversion to pork: “The writer must confess to being one of those who prefer not to eat pork in any form, but for no other reason than an inherited prejudice such as Englishmen, as well as Scotsmen, entertain towards a diet of horse flesh.”

Distinguished culinary historian F. Marian McNeil wrote on the subject around the same time as McKenzie's lectures, he stated:
“If Scotland excels in the curing of fish, England excels in the curing of bacon. Ireland, too, is far ahead of Scotland, where in Ayrshire alone there is a serious attempt to surmount the national disability.”

James I of England (and VI of Scotland) was said to not partake in hog meat, Ben Jonson, an English writer at the time said the king "hated pork in all its varieties".

Even Sir Walter Scott noted in a footnote in The Fortunes of Nigel:

"The Scots (Lowlanders) till within the last generation disliked swine's flesh as an article of food as much as the Highlanders do at present."

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And even referenced the taboo in The Two Drovers where one of his characters, a Highlander, exclaim in Gaelic to several English men who are ridiculing him:

"A hundred curses on the swine eaters, who know neither decency nor civility!"

Indeed this aversion is cited in many sources, many of them English, including Shakespeare himself.

The Taboo

Though Mackenzie has cited what he believes to be the source of the taboo, no-one is really sure where the superstition came from and why it was considered to be so prevalent across the Highland.

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This prejudice is generally agreed to have disappeared around Victorian Times in the Lowlands but is said to still survive in some Highland communities.

We can't imagine a world without bacon though, can you?

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