Why is Pig Meat Called Pork?

Dr. Linda Dahl
4 min readNov 10, 2022
Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

One night, before the pandemic, a friend and fellow foodie invited me to indulge in his favorite meal on the planet at a restaurant called Maialino. Fashioned after a traditional Roman trattoria, it was a gorgeous Italian place nestled in the Gramercy Park Hotel. (It has since closed and reopened elsewhere). The walls were decorated with framed drawings of eggplants and trees. Wooden tables were topped with blue and white checkered tablecloths and bottles of ripe olive oil. The air was ripe with the scent of rustic bread and creamy sauces. It was a place to eat with your fly unbuttoned, or, in my case, stretchy pants.

When our meal arrived, I breathed in a scent close to heaven: Maialino al Forno. Roasted suckling pig with rosemary potatoes. At the hefty price tag of $115, it was the crown jewel of the restaurant, and, according to my friend, worth every penny.

As I was about to slice into the caramelized flesh, I had a thought. I wondered why this dish was called suckling pig and not pork.

And then I wondered why we call pig pork in the first place.

My initial sense was that it had something to do with feeling bad about killing another animal to eat it. Maybe we need different words for an animal when it becomes food to create emotional distance. Slicing into a slab of cow muscle sounds way less appetizing than eating a juicy ribeye. Chopped psoas major (the muscle that tenderloin comes from) sounds almost barbaric compared to the more refined steak tartare. Don’t get me started about how much tastier a nice plate of crispy bacon sounds than sliced pig belly.

But not all meals made of flesh get a new name. Salmon is still salmon. Chicken is still chicken, although it may wander into the poultry section. And lamb is lamb, a baby sheep. So what’s up?

It turns out, the reason for the name change isn’t emotional at all.

It all goes back to 1066 when the Normans conquered Britain. Hailing from France, the Normans brought their language and cuisine along with them. Some of that language (and not enough cuisine, in my opinion) remained part of the Anglo-Saxon lexicon long after the Normans were ousted in 1154. The most commonly eaten animals…

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Dr. Linda Dahl

Physician. Author of Tooth and Nail:The Making of a Female Fight Doctor & Better Breastfeeding, http://www.drlindadahl.com @doctorlindadahl