Mississippi is not famous for hogs, but hogs and pork have long had considerable importance in the state’s history. An early breed of hog descended from the era of Spanish explorers is called the Choctaw hog. Once fairly common in Mississippi, the only remaining Choctaw hogs live among Native American nations in Oklahoma.
The hog was justly famous as one of the two food sources of the southern yeomanry in the nineteenth century. (Corn was the other.) The idea of living high on the hog from branded hogs that more or less fed themselves running free on open range was part of a yeoman ideal. Hogs were common in most areas of antebellum Mississippi: in 1840 the state had almost three hogs per person, and by 1860 there were slightly less than two hogs per person. The number of hogs per person was highest in the Piney Woods, where Greene County residents had six hogs per person, and in central Mississippi, where Leake County residents averaged seven hogs per individual. The rest of the state averaged about two hogs per person, except in the Mississippi River counties, where hogs were far more unusual. Adams County, home of the state’s greatest cotton and slave wealth as well as its largest urban population, had by far the fewest hogs per person.
In the postbellum period, hog production slowly and steadily declined until the 1920s, when the drop became precipitous. Scholars generally attribute the decline of hog farming to a rise in production for national and international markets, often generated by debt and the demands of landlords who wanted farming people to produce cotton for a market and not pork for themselves. The 1880 census was the last in which Mississippi had more hogs (1,151,000) than people (1,131,000), and through the 1920s the total number of hogs in the state decreased from 1,300,000 to 730,000. Hogs increasingly were penned and fed rather than allowed to run free to feed themselves.
Richard Wright described his “speechless astonishment” at “seeing a hog stabbed through the heart” in the Mississippi of his youth, and Anne Moody memorably wrote that too many African Americans were “just shot and butchered like hogs.” William Faulkner put hogs and especially hog trading in several of his stories, perhaps most notably “Barn Burning.” Eudora Welty photographed “Pigs and Laundry on Farish Street” in Jackson in the 1930s. Mississippi has never had a distinctive or famous style of pork barbecue, but barbecue has a long history in the state.
The 2012 agricultural census counted 401,898 hogs. In recent years, raising hogs ceased to be the province of small family farms and has instead become an industrial process. In 1980 Mississippi had more than twenty thousand operations, a number that declined to one thousand by 2006. Many of the state’s hogs are now raised at industrial hog facilities known as confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where large numbers of hogs are raised in small spaces.
Economic losses in pork production in 1998 drove many of Mississippi’s independent producers out of business or increased their risk of losing their family-run operations. This economic loss was an incentive for out-of-state hog corporations to bring industrial swine production to Mississippi. The new trend of large-scale production involves a high density of hogs grown in confinement houses and producing vast amounts of waste. The hog waste is collected and stored in “lagoons”—open pits in the ground where the waste is broken down by microbes. The liquid from the hog waste is later sprayed onto fields as fertilizer. This system introduces several problems for human health and environmental quality. Toxic gases, chemicals, and pollutants can cause health problems for individuals who work in the confinement houses. In addition, residents who live close to the operations may have adverse health effects such as irritation to their eyes, noses, and throats; headaches; vomiting; decrease in proper lung functioning; negative impacts on their immune systems; respiratory ailments; and a decrease in the overall quality of life in communities that neighbor CAFOs.
The number of large-scale packers across the South has declined rapidly. Bryan Foods was the last in Mississippi, but the plant closed its doors in 2007, putting around 1,200 employees out of work.
- Iowa State University and the University of Iowa Study Group, Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study, Final Report (2003), www.public-health.uiowa.edu/ehsrc/CAFOstudy.htm
- National Research Council, The Scientific Basis for Estimating Air Emissions from Animal Feeding Operations (2002)
- M. Wilson, F. Howell, S. Wing, and M. Sobsey, Environmental Health Perspectives Supplement (2002)
- S. Wing, G. Grant, and D. Cole, Environmental Health Perspectives (2000)
- S. Wing and S. Wolf, Environmental Health Perspectives (2000)