Why do pigs eat shit

Backgrounds of a strong feeling That's disgusting!

In contrast to other strong feelings such as love, hate or fear, disgust has hardly been studied scientifically. Probably, so speculated one of the first disgust researchers, the US psychologist Paul Rozin, in the early 1990s, because the subject was so unsavory. Who likes to feel the effects of vomit or that of rotting meat streaked with rotting?

The origins of disgust have long been the subject of speculation: Sigmund Freud saw his task in steering the sex drive in the right direction, away from anal pleasure and other 'perverse' practices. Others, like the Austro-British philosopher Aurel Kolnai, saw it as a defense against immoral behavior, and Paul Rozin saw it as a means of suppressing one's own animal nature.

In contrast, cultural relativists like the anthropologist Mary Douglas viewed disgust as culturally trained. Everything could - if appropriately shaped by culture - become an object of disgust. Pus, feces, and rotting bodies have been considered nauseating across the ages. Rotting organic substances are carriers of germs, which in turn cause infections - so they are potentially dangerous for us.

Disgust for protection

That is why more recent studies come to the conclusion that disgust originally had the function of protecting against illness and death - and is not just an expression of a cultural imprint. Perhaps the origin of disgust was meat, speculates the cognitive scientist Jason Clark from the University of Osnabrück: Because the human stomach does not tolerate spoiled meat, our ancestors would have developed a disgust for it over time - disgust would have been an evolutionary advantage, one over generations developed feeling that is supposed to protect us from illness.

Disgust would be one of several strategies our body can use to deal with substances that are harmful to it: the skin and mucous membranes serve to keep them out of the body. If they do make it into the body, the immune system tries to deal with the pests. According to this explanatory model, however, the very first barrier would be disgust, which prevents us from coming into contact with pathogens at all.

The neuroscientist Anne Schienle from the University of Graz is trying to find out what happens in the brain during the disgusting process. To do this, she pushes her subjects into the magnetic resonance imaging scanner and makes them feel really disgusted. The researchers are looking for a kind of control center from which the feelings of disgust are controlled. And you will find what you are looking for.

Disgust in babies

The insula, also called the insular cortex or insular cortex, is a piece of the cerebral cortex that is roughly level with the temples. It is important for the sense of taste and the perception of smells. And the emotional assessment of pain is also associated with areas of the insula. For example: the one for fear. Because the brain areas that are responsible for disgust and fear are partly the same.

The fact that we all feel disgust and that babies already show the appropriate facial expression speaks in favor of the theory that disgust is innate and evolved. Against it speaks: Babies and toddlers, for example, have no aversions to put feces or worms in their mouths.

And neglected children hardly feel disgust. Children from the age of three at the earliest begin to experience the smell of sweat and feces as unpleasant. This suggests that the ability to be disgusted is innate, but that specific feelings of disgust are only acquired through socialization.

Asians and Camembert

Biology, socialization and culture interlock in the individual development of feelings of disgust. This probably also applies to the widespread disgust for spiders or snakes. Possibly at the beginning there is the evolutionary sensible reaction to react to certain stimuli and objects with defense.

And this is quite appropriate with spiders and snakes because many of them are poisonous and therefore dangerous. The fear of spiders and snakes is therefore particularly great in countries where there are really dangerous specimens. Here, too, a biological reflex is "differentiated" through education.

Almost all national or regional kitchens contain dishes that members of other cultures find disgusting. In Sardinia, for example, there is a cheese in which live maggots cavort. In Sweden, on the other hand, they eat fermented fish. Asians consider the aroma of a ripe camembert to be a disgusting stench.

Disgust arises in the head

In addition to pork, beef and chicken, dog eating has a long tradition in Korea, as well as in Vietnam and China. E.g. the stew Boshintang - with dog meat. Or - steamed dog with vegetables. Dog meat is a specialty in all three countries and is expensive. And the two German tourists in Korea admit that it tastes good.

Obviously, one's own eating culture, practiced through upbringing and habit, defines a rough grid for every person, within which he can develop his taste preferences. And these grids are internalized to such an extent that when they are exceeded, even and especially when they happen unintentionally, people react with disgust and discomfort.

Such disgust arises in the head - and not in the taste buds or olfactory cells. It is associations and images that evoke it - and not the original sense of taste.

Unclean animals?

Most religious food taboos relate to meat: Hindus are not allowed to eat beef. Up until the 16th century, the consumption of horse meat was regarded in Christianity as evidence of witchcraft and devilish activities. And pork is taboo for both Jews and Muslims. There are many explanations for these taboos: the cattle were used as workhorses and were therefore not allowed to be slaughtered.

Or: Pigs are unclean animals, roll around in the dirt and eat their own droppings. But - chickens and goats also eat their droppings. And trichinosis, which one can get sick from eating pork, wasn't discovered until the 19th century. Beef should also have been banned because it can contain a parasite that causes the deadly disease anthrax.

Ultimately, the reason for the various food taboos is not clearly understandable. What is certain is that the taboos work. And members of a certain food culture can hardly avoid this effect.

Breaded grasshoppers

Disgust thresholds change over time. The public latrines of the Romans were very sociable. In the Middle Ages the chamber pot was emptied into the street with impunity. Today body sweat and bad breath are already considered disgusting. And while udders, brains or innards used to be a matter of course on the table, today many people shy away from these dishes.

But it also works the other way around: Garlic and chilli have only conquered German kitchens in the last few decades. And for a long time the consumption of raw fish was considered the epitome of barbarism in local latitudes.

In European culture, eating insects has been frowned upon since the fall of the Roman Empire. That could in principle change again, but not everyone is convinced that breaded grasshoppers will be a regular part of our menu in the future.

It makes sense to feel disgusted by things that can make us sick or dangerous. But the disgust that arises because we do not want to eat what we do not know can block many a delicious taste experience.

Broadcast on