The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs

Respecting and Caring for All God's Creation


By Joel Salatin

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From Christian libertarian farmer Joel Salatin, a clarion call to readers to honor the animals and the land, and produce food based on spiritual principles.
What on earth is The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs? It’s an inspiring call to action for people of faith . . . a heartfelt plea to heed the Bible’s guidance . . . .

It’s an important and thought-provoking explanation of how by simply appreciating the marvelous pigness of pigs, we are celebrating the Glory of God.

As a man of deep faith and student of the Bible, and as a respected and successful ecological family farmer, Joel Salatin knows that God created heaven and earth and meant for all living organisms to be true to their nature and their endowed holy purpose. He intended for us to respect and care for His gift of creation, not to ravage and mistreat it for our own pleasure or wealth.

The example that inspires the book’s title explains what Salatin means: when huge corporate farms confine pigs in cramped and dark pens, inject them with antibiotics and feed them herbicide-saturated food simply to increase profits, they are not respecting them as a creation of God or allowing them to express even their most rudimentary uniqueness – that special role that is part of His design. Every living organism has a God-given uniqueness to its life that must be honored and respected, and too often that is not happening today.

Salatin shows us the long overlooked ethics and instructions in the Bible for how to eat, how to shop, how to think about how we farm and feed the world. Through scripture and Biblical stories, he shows us why it’s more vital than ever to look to the good book rather than corporate America when feeding the country and your family.

Salatin makes a compelling case for Christian stewardship of the earth and how it relates to every action we take regarding our food. He also opens our eyes to a common misconception many Christians may have about environmentalism: it’s not a bad thing, and definitely not just the province of secular liberals; it’s really a very good thing, part of heeding God’s Word.

With warmth and with humor, but with no less piercing criticism of the industrial food complex, Salatin brings readers on a fascinating journey of farming, food and faith. Readers will not say grace over their plates the same way ever again.


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This is my coming-out book. Number ten seemed to be a good one for that. My mantra as a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer has always generated some chuckles, and I've never shoved my Christianity down people's throats. I don't wear it on my sleeve, but people whose radars are up perceive that I'm a Christian.

So far, I've been able to bridge the creation worshippers and the Creator worshippers. This book has grown out of the tension between those two camps. I have deep, deep friendships in both camps. Often my liberal creation-worshipping environmental friends ask: "How can you believe what you do and be a Christian?"

By the same token, my Christian friends wonder how I can identify with so many liberal environmental ideas. This book is targeted to the 34 percent of Americans who call themselves evangelicals, the religious right, Christians, or members of the faith community. My biggest concern is that those will not be the ones who read it because "my people" have not been my constituency. But they're moving, and that's exciting to see.

Let me say a word to my non-Christian friends and constituency. I hope you'll indulge this book. My utmost hope is that it presents God's biblical view of things, not human interpretations of God's view. That said, I'm sure I've missed some things and made some mistakes. In no way is this book meant to offend my non-Christian friends. Rather, I hope it gives you an understanding of God's heart in earth stewardship. And if the full impact draws you to an interest in seeking more biblical insight, wonderful. That said, it's hard to write a book for everyone, so I've targeted Christians with this one. But I invite you to listen in on our conversation.

I've purposely used biblical phraseology so that Christians will know I'm not a radical liberal creation-worshipping environmentalist masquerading as a believer. Think of this as a sermon that's been a long time coming. For some, it will be the purest breath of fresh air you've inhaled for a long time. For others, it will challenge the very foundation of your assumptions.

In truth, I've grown weary of apologizing for Christian abuse of God's property. While Christians aren't the only ones abusing God's creation, to be sure, we are the ones who should do it least. Society should have to strain things to accuse us of abusing God's stuff. The sad fact is that by and large Christians deserve the accusations.

The thesis of this book is simple: all of God's creation, the physical world, is an object lesson of spiritual truth. Object lessons for children have been part of spiritual instruction for a long, long time. Jesus' parables were object lessons. The Jewish tabernacle during the wilderness wanderings was an object lesson.

Francis Schaeffer routinely asked: "How shall we then live?" Of all the great Christian apologists, he dared to wrestle with the physical/spiritual connection. While many theologians and academics have written books about earth stewardship, I've always found them lacking when the question "How shall we then live?" gets asked. As a full-time Christian farmer, I wanted to offer an extremely practical apologetic for earth stewardship.

The question, then, is, what does a food and farming system look like that exemplifies spiritual truths? What does a forgiving farm look like, a faith farm? What does a "whosoever will" food system look like? More than just asking if there is a right or wrong way to farm and feed ourselves, I've attempted to explain how God's mind shows itself in real life. If we can't grasp or understand truth in the life we see, how in the world are we supposed to practice it in the life we can't see?

I do not see any conflict between the physical and the spiritual. In fact, I see symbiosis between the two. Each chapter, then, juxtaposes a farm and food system that illustrates biblical truth versus its opposite. I don't purport to have all the answers, but I think we as Christians owe it to our world, our neighbors, our credibility, and especially to God to represent Him well. How we represent Him should not be taken lightly.

My prayer is that God will use this book to stir the hearts of His people to a renewed stewardship mandate. To God be the glory.

Joel Salatin

November 2015

Who Am I?

I have been a stranger in a strange land.

Exodus 2:22

"If you enter a health food store, you've just joined a cult." I could scarcely believe the words. I put the magazine down, hoping my dormitory roommates did not notice the angst etching my face. Could it be true? Was I a cultist?

It was 1978; I was a senior at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. The university's professional and slick magazine, Faith for the Family, arrived in every dorm room each month—one for each student. The chancellor, Dr. Bob Jr., had written the cover story about the emerging food fad—organic, health food, compost—environmentalism's latest permutation on our culture's landscape.

Not only was I a student, I was also a student leader. Appearing in Who's Who Among American College Students, president of my society (BJU's alternative to fraternities), prayer captain (in charge of three dorm rooms), official campus tour guide for visitors. I was no slouch. I was a good foot soldier and considered myself a model of everything the university stood for. Indeed, I embraced the tenets and intended to promote the BJU vision for the rest of my life. I was a member of the religious right before anybody invented the term.

In modern parlance, I had drunk the Kool-Aid. But I had this other part of my life—my family and home. A farm nestled in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, about six hours north. It wasn't just any farm; it was a non-chemical compost-centric, free-range chicken, homemade raw milk organic-embracing place. In fact, when the first health food store came to our town of Staunton, my parents immediately began buying things there.

Adelle Davis, early maven of heritage-based non-industrial food, was a household name. Her books Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let's Cook It Right received plenty of attention in our house. Interestingly, she never could break her smoking habit and eventually died of lung cancer. I remember when I was about fifteen years old and my dad tried to eat brewer's yeast. I was leaning over the kitchen counter, wide eyed, watching him try yet another healthy concoction.

Remember, these were early days in the integrity food movement. McDonald's had not yet become a national brand. My dad took a spoonful of straight brewer's yeast and promptly blew it all over the kitchen. Have you ever tried eating flour? It's like trying to swallow sandpaper wood dust. One of his other early trials was flaxseed tea. I assumed my normal position as spectator, protected by the kitchen counter while he stayed in the kitchen on the other side.

He tried to spoon some of the flaxseed tea out of the cooking pot. It was like melted plastic. Every time he'd get some and try to get it to his mouth, it would snap back into the pot. It was like silly goo in a children's toy store. Children like me who grow up on farms have distinctly intimate and memorable experiences with life's greatest wonders, not the least of which is birthing. I blurted to Dad: "It looks like afterbirth."

He and I both started laughing so hard he couldn't continue trying to eat it. Obviously, something had gone wrong in the brewing. It was absolutely inedible. It was pliable but more like a rubber band. I took the pot out to my chickens, known for their ability to eat anything. Used to eating our kitchen scraps, the hens came running when I entered the yard with the pot. I poured it into their slop pan and they peered in sideways—their eyes make it difficult to see straight ahead. They circled the pan, first looking at the concoction with one eye, then tilting their heads the other way to study it with the other eye. Then they walked away.

I couldn't believe it—I went running back into the house to exclaim to Dad the most amazing news of the day: "Even the chickens won't eat it!" I'd never seen the chickens turn their beaks up at anything. The nastiest, most spoiled meat, milk, or whatever went down their throats like homemade ice cream. In my experience, the more mold and weird stuff hanging on food scraps, the more the chickens liked them. But not Dad's flaxseed tea! I don't think he ever tried to make it again. But he did make Tiger's Milk, Adelle Davis's nutritional milk shake concoction. Friends at church called it Panther Puke.

Our house was full of Rodale's Organic Gardening and Farming magazines and The Mother Earth News. Plowboy interviews in the front of the magazine introduced me to permaculture. Another start-up in those days, ACRES U.S.A magazine provided a steady diet of eco-farming information.

My teen years during the early 1970s saw the rise of the hippie movement. Our family enjoyed entertaining hippie friends, some of whom arrived engulfed in an acrid, sweet-smelling perfume that we knew was not from tobacco. We enjoyed and embraced these back-to-earthers, discussing evil corporate American companies, the Vietnam War, compost, natural food, and alternative wellness like acupuncture and chiropractic. These folks formed our support network—yes, you could call it a tribe—in our environmental farming ventures.

All this time, I equally enjoyed my role as leader in the Bible Memory Association (BMA), kind of a precursor of today's AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) organization, which is also a Bible memory program. At the time, I did not feel a tension between practical earth stewardship, alternative health, and the Bible. These elements seemed to complement each other.

Our family actually would visit Eco-Village in North Carolina on the way to Bob Jones University. To my mind, both places were equally inspiring. So imagine my chagrin when, as a senior, student leader, and devotee of this beloved university, I suddenly realized that my family and I were branded cultists. I could scarcely finish the article. I was in a fog the rest of the day.

The university prohibited students from attending movie theaters. In fact, if you went to one during holiday or summer breaks, you faced disciplinary action if administrators found out. I had a sinking feeling, like I was a criminal among the righteous. I couldn't confess—that would jeopardize my standing. I suddenly had this deep, dark secret. And it was more than just my problem.

My mother had been the first women's health and physical education professor for Bob Jones College—when it was still in Cleveland, Tennessee. In fact, she was on the faculty during the transition from Tennessee to South Carolina. Our family had deep roots in the school. Had our family betrayed this legacy? As a senior, as supposed leader of several dorm rooms' worth of guys, was I a sham, a wolf in sheep's clothing, because we shopped at the health food store?

At that point, I realized how different I was. It all started to make sense. The health fooders, as a subset of the greater environmental movement, essentially embraced evolution and worshipped creation. You didn't have to read hippie material very long to realize that God had little equity in their ranks. God was the problem, not the solution. Creation? Forget it. It all came from a haphazard big bang.

Christians responded aggressively. These environmentalist hippie whackos were anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-Bible—a cult, in fact. The lines were drawn. Each side despised the other, blaming the other for all sorts of sins. Environmentalists pointed to the Crusades and the conquistadors. Rigidity, hypocrisy, Phariseeism, and judgmentalism—the Bible birthed it all.

Christians pointed to drugs, free love, sex, and saving baby whales while ripping out thinking, hearing, responding human babies in abortion. Roe v. Wade burst on the cultural scene and further polarized these camps. Stereotypes form easily, and as the religious right under Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority gained political traction, conservatives generally and Bible-thumpers specifically carried the blame for every environmental disaster. The environmentalists had their enemy—conservatives and the religious right.

In fact, I spoke at the University of Guelph in Ontario several years ago, part of a panel in a town meeting format. The instructions were clear: the three of us had an opening five-minute monologue and then we would entertain questions from the students for two hours. I arrived and sat down in my designated seat next to a professor-looking gentleman who placed a Bible on the table in front of him. I saw it and wondered what it was for—this was unusual.

He was the first to speak, and, holding the Bible aloft, he began a five-minute rant that went something like this: "You students need to understand that every ecological disaster, every polluted river, every smog-filled city, every toxic waste site, is due to this book." He went on and on this way, blaming Jesus, the prophets, Moses, creation thinking—you name it. He left no stone unturned in the vitriolic diatribe. He didn't know that I carry a Bible in my luggage because I love it, not because I loathe it.

I was next. I simply said: "I appreciate this remonstrance, but the blame is not on the Book, the blame is on misinterpretations and misapplications of the Bible." This was simply one of many similar situations. I was speaking at another conference and we sat down at round banquet tables. Normally everyone introduces themselves around as the meal starts and the small talk ensues.

This time we all sat down, and, before introductions could be enjoyed, the guy next to me—another speaker—announced loudly: "I hate Christians." Oh, boy, here we go again, I thought. Turns out he had just returned from six months of filming in Africa and watched local economies displaced by containers of missionary clothes and trinkets. The displaced entrepreneur class became the warlords featured prominently in Western news media—the guys who held up Red Cross trucks with submachine guns, extorting payments in order for the aid truck to proceed. He viewed Christian charity as the cause of warlords and cultural misery.

As my own position as a mouthpiece of environmentally friendly farming and local food grew, I found the tension at every turn. I realized I was living in two very different worlds. My environmentalist friends, largely liberal Democrats, loved my evangelical passion for promoting the pigness of pigs, compost, and food with integrity. But they quickly became embarrassed that I opposed abortion, wanted smaller government, and toted a Bible when I traveled. I loved these tree-hugging cosmic-worshipping, Gaia-promoting, big-government evolutionists. Many were and are closer friends than my Christian friends.

I was equally distanced from my Christian friends, and that was frustrating. When I attended services with these friends, I blanched at potluck dinners where parishioners brought Kentucky Fried Chicken. An elder who was a farmer had Tyson chicken houses. That made for strained conversations. Children's programs featured sugary snacks and genetically modified organism (GMO) crackers. My Christian friends loved conservative talk radio, whose hosts laughed at the notion of animal rights: "Can they write a constitution?" Har, har, har. Rush Limbaugh's perfunctory audio execution of monkeys in the rain forest—that wasn't funny to me. My Bible says that God knows when a sparrow falls, that God feeds the ravens and clothes lilies with a glory greater than Solomon's. Wow!

Then, of course, there are the prayer requests for sickness after sickness after sickness. Go to parishioners' homes and you'll find cartons of high fructose corn syrup drinks, candy bars, industrial food, microwavable breaded chicken nuggets loaded with artificials and un-pronounceables. And drugs. Drugs. Drugs. It dawned on me that the biblical narrow way that leads to truth and the broad way that leads to destruction are not just spiritual: they're all-encompassing.

When the faith community pontificates on spiritual matters, it generally hides behind the Augustinian premise of duality: spiritual is good; physical is evil. But God made a world and proclaimed it good. Indeed, He promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey—that doesn't sound like a place of invisible spirit to me. It sounds like a place you can see, touch, drink, eat, taste, and feel.

Francis Schaeffer asked the question: "How shall we then live?" Memorizing verses and the catechism is fine, but how does it translate into practical living? Does God care if we use Styrofoam or paper plates at the church potluck? Does God care if we stop for Happy Meals on our way to a sanctity-of-life rally?

Those of us on the religious right can't even find words to describe the inconsistency of a save-the-tree crusader who cares little about saving life other places, like in the womb. The birth canal does not make life. I've delivered a lot of calves in my life. When you reach into that cow to assist, you grab for a front leg and if it's alive, the calf will instinctively pull away. Your first emotion when that happens is an exultant: "It's alive!" It's not fetal tissue. It's a responding, thinking, living being that just hasn't passed through the birth canal yet. If it doesn't pull away, you feel the loss, realizing it's dead, and now the deed is just to save the mother. This is not a focus group thing or academic blathering—this is real life.

I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around the thinking that elevates keeping a chain saw away from a tree over keeping a vacuum pump away from an unborn human baby. I don't have words for it. And every red-blooded religious rightist can now say: "Amen!"

Okay, brothers and sisters, are you ready for the other side? When we stop off for Happy Meals on our way to a sanctity-of-life rally, the other side sees us as equally inconsistent. Why? Because Happy Meals represent everything Christians should oppose. From encouraging families to not eat together to factory farming to pollution to government subsidies to money being more important than anything else—it's an icon of anti-Christian thought and practice. How could you stop there? Now, how many of you Christians can say, "Amen!"?

I had an epiphany several years ago when I was asked to speak at UC Berkeley, hotbed of liberalism and fount of godlessness. I had a standing-room-only crowd of graduate students and did what I call my stem-winder presentation—pictures of our farm and how we produce things in an environmentally enhancing way. I didn't back down from my libertarian Christian beliefs, and even told the students I was a six-day creationist and sanctity-of-lifer. When I finished, the students erupted in a standing ovation.

The host professors and I went out for ice cream after the talk. As soon as we were outside the auditorium, they stopped me in front of a streetlamp and almost breathlessly said they had a confession to make. My mind spinning, I wondered what this was all about. I mean, there are confessions and then there are confessions.

What they confessed was that they were scared to death for me and they were elated that it had gone so well. You see, they explained, Berkeley developed a hissing technique during the Vietnam era to show their displeasure to speakers who said something unacceptable. Forget common courtesy; this is the apex of American political evolution, remember. Goodness, I love those guys. Anyway, these professors said they had never in their many years on faculty heard a speaker use the word God reverently without getting hissed.

Or course, if you used it in a cursing way, or damning way, that was fine and acceptable. I had used God several times, completely reverently and completely within the religious right context, and not only had the students not hissed, they had responded with a standing ovation. The professors admitted great relief and it seemed funny, after the fact, that they were distressfully tense and concerned before the event.

I've thought a lot about that incident over the years, and I've come to the conclusion that I may have been the first religious right person these students had ever heard who extended biblical beliefs to physical creation care. That talk-walk consistency resonated positively with the students and they were willing to respect or appreciate that I was a fuddy-duddy otherwise.

I think the faith community has squandered its moral high road. Back in the early 1980s I attended a sustainable agriculture conference with an Amish friend. As we walked out to retrieve our lunch, another attendee passed us on the sidewalk. He had dreadlocks, a hubcap-size peace symbol pendant dangling from his neck, earrings, and a burlap blouse, and he was wearing sandals without socks even though it was a cold day. Two buttons adorned his smock: "Co-exist" and "My Karma just ran over your Dogma." My Amish friend glanced at me and whispered wryly: "Why are they the ones who appreciate that creation is fearfully and wonderfully made?" Indeed.

I am at home both places, but not at home either place. My Christian friends embarrass me with their cavalier attitude toward resource use, toxicity, pollution, animal care, and stewardship. They hold Monsanto's GMOs up as a perfect example of dominion and human innovation, an expression of cerebral technological prowess. The assumption is that anything we're capable of doing comes under the blessing of taking dominion over the earth and subduing it.

In the movie Jurassic Park, you may remember the euphoric scientist exulting over his accomplishment while his resurrected dinosaurs wreaked mayhem on civilization—eating people, cars, and so on. The journalist dared to ask the scientist: "But sir, just because we can, should we?" That is a pregnant question and worthy of our attention every day. As a Greco-Roman Western reductionist compartmentalized fragmented disconnected democratized individualized systematized parts-oriented culture, we've become great at figuring out the how of things, but not the why.

It's the why that creates an ethical framework around the how. Otherwise, we're inventive and sharp enough with our big brains and opposing thumbs to innovate things we can't spiritually, emotionally, physically, or mentally metabolize. Suddenly we find ourselves devoting most of our innovative capacity to solving problems we created with our amoral innovation.

Why is it that in all the things pastors and evangelists decry, from alcoholism to abortion, they cannot find room to decry junk food, pharmaceutical dependency, and plastic islands floating in the ocean? Any mention of the seven hundred dead zones in and around the United States? Any mention of concentrated animal feeding operations that destroy neighborhoods with their stench and water pollution? No way; the religious right sends our kids to the best colleges so they can land high-paying jobs at big companies that pillage the earth. Oh, I mean that practice dominion. Yeah, right.

I'm fascinated by the notion that most Christians happily patronize cheap food that destroys creation in its production, impoverishes third world countries, and supports oligarchical interests, all in order to have more money to put in the offering plate for missionaries. Does that make God happy? Endorse the broad way in every facet of life in order to wiggle through the narrow way in one small part.

Enter the homeschooling movement. As the new millennium turned and alternative schooling gained momentum, I saw the glimmer of a shift. In the 1990s more than half the visitors to our farm were of the creation-worshipping variety. But after 2000, that ratio flipped the other way. Suddenly thousands of families—conservative libertarian Christians—began talking about food quality, land stewardship, and farm righteousness.

Certainly the Y2K phenomenon fueled this conservative back-to-the-land movement, but I believe the fuel for the whole shift came from homeschooling. This grassroots educational innovation occurred as a result of parents' disenchantment with government institutional education. They didn't like the curriculum, the violence, the philosophy, the institutionalization, the temptations, or the reduced academic standards replaced by condom-toting teachers and values adjustment exercises.

By the thousands, families like ours said "Enough!" and opted out of the government schools. The exodus was huge and continues today. Some started homeschooling. Others went to parochial schools. Many used correspondence. Whatever the alternative, for the most part these parents found it refreshing and deeply satisfying. When a person takes an alternative path and finds it satisfying, that happiness stimulates alternative thinking in other areas of life.

By 2010, a groundswell of homeschoolers had added a kitchen grain mill, milk cow, and farmette to their opt-out lexicon. The conversation went like this: "Now that I've opted out of education's wide gate, found the narrow gate of alternative learning and found it satisfying, what other narrow gate can I find? Where else can I opt out?" Along came Christian health insurance, home business entrepreneurship seminars, and appointments with chiropractors—imagine that. What parents had called quacks these opt-out homeschoolers embraced as truth dispensers.

Moms began reading about nutrition and started seeking raw milk. They planted gardens and kept honeybees. Go to any homeschooling convention today and you'll be amazed at the self-employment homesteading alternative therapy presence. It's huge. Some of these outfits even began asking me to come and speak at their conferences. Me, an environmentalist beyond organic weirdo.

Indeed, the first time I formally articulated the basic themes of this book was at Patrick Henry College, the brainchild of Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. How fitting that my first public apologetic for these concepts came at the official American homeschool college. As wonderful as that was, however, I noted that the college did not spend any time talking about food or farming. Those were non-issues compared to making sure American military muscle stayed well financed and Monsanto stayed free to spew GMOs around the landscape. This was not a slight oversight; it was a purposeful and necessary disregard because to wrestle with earth stewardship was to question the axiom: folks who hug trees are anti-God.

During the 1980s Focus on the Family did a multiday series on the plight of the American farmer. My dad was still alive and we listened to the heart-wrenching stories of these Christian farmers who went bankrupt. James Dobson empathized and cried foul with them. Lending institutions, market boards, machinery dealers, chemical companies—oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that erupted from the studio over the predations of these uncaring and manipulative entities. Farmers were victims of an insidious agenda beyond their control.


On Sale
May 30, 2017
Page Count
288 pages

Joel Salatin

About the Author

Joel Salatin is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel and their families. The Salatin Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, ten retail outlets and fifty restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Joel Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.

Learn more about this author