During my time with the Blue Zones/National Geographic team, I had the highly satisfying experience of having something that I do instinctively, passionately and naturally confirmed as A Good Thing.

Ikarian lemon pork…and the rest

I learned that eating pork can make you live longer. Or, more scientifically, one of the dietary staples that the various communities in the Blue Zones around the world had in common is pork – read more on that here.

Pork is a protein-rich substance that clears the skin, protects the liver, detoxifies the lungs, even cleanses the system of cholesterol. Okinawans – lauded as the longest lived people on the planet – are the only Japanese to eat pork. The Japanese as a whole do not rate high on the life expectancy stakes. Only the pork eaters.

Dan Buettner and I talked a lot about meat consumption. He’s a reticent meat fan. But I think we agree: meat is great. But eat more… and less (see below), is my mantra.

Dan says:

“Pork is interesting. It’s an anomaly and I would not have guessed it, but I can’t deny it. One Okinawan scientist studied this. His theory, and I’m not sure I agree with it completely, is that because pig is the most genetically similar to humans, there’s something in the pork protein that helps repair arterial damage. What he cites is that in America we die of heart disease and the Japanese tend to die of strokes, but in Okinawa they have fewer strokes. This is part of the reason they live longer. The doctor theorizes that it’s because they eat more pork than any other prefecture of Japan, and pork protein serves almost as caulking.”

This trip I’ve celebrated pork everywhere. I’ve craved it, my body has benefited almost immediately from it, I’ve been thoroughly grateful for it. In Spain it was Iberian pork – roasted, as a prosciutto type tapas, as salami, in omelettes.

Suckling pig at Botin in Milan, the oldest restaurant in the world

In France, I ate pork trotters in a garlicky, gherkiny sauce. For my slow food guide to Provence, click here.

Back home in Byron I eat the famous organic Bangalow pork. Not in huge quantities. But respectfully. And always with a lot of appreciation. I also eat the fat, the marrow, the cartilage, and sometimes the bones. That’s what I mean by respectful. I don’t toss out bits.

Here in Greece, I’ve been eating pork as it should be eaten. Slow-cooked in it’s own juices and fat (nothing added apart from some lemon juice and oregano). Here the whole animal is eaten, not just the fashionable cuts. Respectful.

This is something I’m becoming increasingly passionate about: eating less while eating more.

That is, eating smaller quantities, but eating the whole animal. More on this later…

At the panygiri (the local village festivals), pork broth is consumed throughout the night. My friend Eleni told me this: always drink one glass of wine, one glass of water, one swish of pork broth. Do this all night and you stay sober and energised.

One hot afternoon we visited Eleni, Thea’s 85-year-old aunt. She bakes her own bread and grows all her own veggies. While we were filming, she whipped us up a little something to “snack” on…see the main image above. That’s how it’s done here. The recipe below is a version of it, albeit not using a fresh pig and fresh ingredients picked that morning. It’s one of those recipes where you’ll have to adjust things according to the type of meat you use. Either cook in a slow cooker or in a big pot in the oven.

Thea’s aunt had much advice…including never eating low-fat food. She also ate super slowly. And drank wine with every meal.

Icarian lemon pork

1  kilo pork, preferably shoulder or collar, cut into stewing size pieces, or about 6 pork chops

1 onion, sliced into rings

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup water or stock


juice of 2 lemons

1-2 tbls cornflour or arrowroot

Place the meat in the slow cooker (only remove REALLY chunky bits of fat…you need to leave quite a bit of fat on to really get the full Greek flavour), pour the stock/water, half the lemon and the oil over the top, and place the onion and garlic on top. Sprinkle with plenty of salt. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours on low. When done, ladle out some of the juices, mix with a tablespoon or two of cornflour and the rest of the lemon juice and pour back over the meat and stir. Cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with horta (greens), salad, olives, cheese and wine.

Let me know how you go with this one. Remember, the point is that the pork cooks in it’s fats and juices. Don’t overtrim and make sure you buy some cuts with plenty of fat!


Have your say, leave a comment.

  • John David

    Eat ya fucken vegetables!

  • Catherine Edmends

    Pigs are scavengers by nature, which means that they will eat almost anything, including rotten food, feces, urine, carcasses and even cancerous growths. Unfortunately the digestive system of a pig is incapable of effectively removing these accumulated toxins from the body because a pig will digest its food entirely in about 4 hours. This is simply not long enough to remove the excess toxins that were ingested, these toxins are then stored directly in the fat cells and organs of the pig itself.

    “Sweating like a pig” yet? Ironically enough, that statement isn’t true -pigs do not have sweat glands which means they are unable to remove excess toxins by sweating (like we do). So naturally this means that pork meat would be a much more toxic meat than others and when you consume it you would be taking in those toxins as well. With our current environments, we really don’t need to expose our bodies to even more toxins if we don’t have to.

    According to an investigation by Consumer Reports, 69% of all raw pork samples tested (of about 200 samples) were contaminated with a dangerous bacteria known as Yersinia enteroclitica. This bacteria can cause fever, gastrointestinal illness, diarrhea, vomiting and cramps.

    Ground pork was more likely to be contaminated than pork chops. This pork also tested positive for other contaminants including a controversial drug called ractopamine, which is banned China and Europe. Many of the bacteria that were found in the pork were actually resistant to multiple anti-biotics, which makes treatment problematic and potentially lethal if you were to get sick.

    According to the report:

    “We found salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more common causes of foodborne illness, in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause problems such as urinary tract-infections.”

    Pigs are a host to a number of parasites, viruses and other organisms, many of which can be directly transmitted to humans, some include:

    Taenia solium -an intestinal parasite that can cause tissue infection and loss of appetite.

    Menangle virus –a virus that can cause fever, chills, rashes, headaches and sweating.

    Trichinella –A parasitic roundworm that can cause edema, myalgia, fever and malaise.

    Hepatitis E –A viral inflammation that can cause fatigue, nausea and jaundice. More severe cases can lead to liver fibrosis and cirrhosis.

    The study does indicate that if you were to cook the pork properly you can reduce the risk of the these parasites affecting you, but there is no guaranteed temperature for safety when it comes to pork.

    If you still choose to consume pork, follow the following guidelines to increase safety.

    As issued by Consumer Reports:

    When cooking pork, use a meat thermometer to ensure that it reaches the proper internal temperature, which kills potentially harmful bacteria: at least 145° F for whole pork and 160° F for ground pork.

    Keep raw pork and its juices separate from other foods, especially those eaten raw, such as salad.

    Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.

    Choose pork and other meat products that were raised without drugs. One way to do that is to buy certified organic pork, from pigs raised without antibiotics or ractopamine.

    Look for a clear statement regarding antibiotic use. “No antibiotics used” claims with a USDA Process Verified shield are more reliable than those without verification. Labels such as “Animal Welfare Approved” and “Certified Humane” indicate the prudent use of antibiotics to treat illness.

    Watch out for misleading labels. “Natural” has nothing to do with antibiotic use or how an animal was raised. We found unapproved claims, including “no antibiotic residues,” on packages of Sprouts pork sold in California and Arizona, and “no antibiotic growth promotants” on Farmland brand pork sold in several states. We reported those to the USDA in June 2012, and the agency told us it’s working with those companies to take “appropriate actions.” When we checked in early November, Sprouts had removed the claim from its packages.

    What About Organic Pasture Raised Pork?

    While this pork is obviously going to be much better for you to consume, it is very hard to find, and still poses certain health concerns. Pasture raised pork is very susceptible to Trichinella spiralis infection, also known as the “pork worm.” Trichinella is one of the most widespread parasites in the whole world, it has the potential to cause some very serious health concerns. Trichinella can be killed in the cooking process but one has to follow guidelines closely to make sure the meat is cooked through.

    It is said that pork can be a “healthy” meat, but this entirely depends on how it was raised as well. Most if not all of the pork most of us consume is factory farmed. According to research by Dr Mercola: “So for most all industrially raised pork, I believe there is enough scientific evidence to justify the reservations or outright prohibitions in many cultures against consuming it. Nearly all pigs raised in the U.S. come from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFO’s. These inhumane environments are typically toxic breeding grounds for pathogens.

    These animals spend their short, miserable lives on concrete and steel grates. Antibiotics are given liberally with their feed, making their massive waste even more toxic.

    This is why you can smell a CAFO swine operation miles before you see it. At an operation like Joel Salatin’s, you couldn’t smell any sign of pigs. These pigs were raised humanely and organically, where both animal and land are managed symbiotically.

    Unfortunately, raising animals in CAFO’s is the standard for Americans. For many of us, CAFO pork is the only option available.

    Granted, the occasional consumption of pork might be fine, but it’s a risk, and the more you consume it the more likely it is that you will eventually acquire some type of infection.”

    If The Pressing Health Concerns Aren’t Enough…

    It’s a sad fact that 97 percent of all pigs in the United States today are raised in factory farms. This means that these pigs will never get to run on grass, breathe fresh air, or play in the sun. They are cramped and crowded into huge warehouses and fed a diet largely consisting of drugs and anti-biotics to keep them alive and to encourage rapid growth.

    Many people believe that pigs are highly intelligent creatures. Some say they are smarter than dogs, and others say they are smarter than your average 3 year old. Pigs can form complex social networks and they also have excellent memories.

    If pigs were given the sufficient space that they need, they wouldn’t be soiling the areas where they sleep and eat, but in the factory farms the pigs have no choice but to live in their own feces, urine and vomit. Because of this, many (about 1/4) of pigs suffer from mange, an extremely itchy painful rash that doesn’t go away.

    Sadly, because of the conditions the pigs are forced to live in they are inhaling toxic gas such as ammonia that comes from the urine and feces, this gas irritates the animals lungs to the point where over 80% of the pigs raised in the U.S. have pneumonia at the time of slaughter.

    The horrors that these creatures have to endure on factory farms goes on and on, what was mentioned here is just the tip of what is actually going on behind closed doors.

  • dmariepaschal

    Humans are omnivores by nature, not carnivores. Since we have a choice in the matter, consuming plants is more compassionate (of higher energy) than consuming an innocent animal.(especially one as emotionally intelligent as a pig, they’re known to be smarter than dogs). If you don’t have access to plants to sustain you, then I would be okay with eating meat only to survive (as we did as Cavemen). Or if for some reason you need some meat in your diet to cure an illness (i don’t believe there’s any proof of this). If you do eat meat, sourcing meat that’s raised locally and compassionately is probably more expensive and difficult, but you’re making a more compassionate choice. Being Vegan would be the most compassionate choice. BTW, Not having children is also compassionate. The world can no-longer sustain it’s population, which is why we have so many animals raised in tiny crates in factory farms. Because we have so many humans, hell bent on eating meat with every meal. People are starving every day while we feed grain to animals for the wealthy who can afford it. I advocate for adopting babies, dogs and animals as pets, and eating as close to vegan as humanly possible. And recycle and compost. and stop buying shit you don’t need. Morality aside, here’s an article about how terrible pork is for your HEALTH. http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/11/23/why-you-should-never-eat-pork/

  • r u kidding me

    HAHAHHAAH IM LAUGHING THIS IS UTTER BULLSHIT omfg what is she getting paid to say these lies.

  • Marvin

    Hi there,

    I’m not sure how accurate this article is.

    Correlation isn’t causation…are you sure that there’s a causal link between life expectancy and pork consumption?

    When I look at the diets of the verified longest-lived people (died at age 110 or older) many of them didn’t consume much or any pork at all. The one similarity I see in most of the people who lived the longest was eating raw vegetables and limited meat (but not too much meat).

    Also Okinawans don’t eat pork often, just during monthly festivals, they eat mostly vegetables on a daily basis.

  • R.F

    Hi Sarah,
    I’m from southern India, where we have had generations who have loved and savored our pork for generations, obviously, we are still here…I am both dismayed at the negative press about pork and delighted to read your post on pork!
    May I add my two pence, pork in India is considered the only cold meat, the one and only, cold meat. Ideal for summers and hot weather, where chicken, beef and any other ‘heaty’ meats will have you break out in zits!
    The second pence, some cultures, prohibit the consumption of pork, good, cause the prohibition came in long before microscopes, that discovered the bad stuff pork carried. But it is the ingenuity of the women folk of the same time that learned how to cook this dangerous meat, all they discovered was a lot of garlic and slow cooking for an extended duration…
    We have a hundred different ways to cook pork in India, this will be the first time I’m giving the Greek way a shot. Incidentally, Alexander the Great reached a part of our state, which is very famous for its pork. Google ‘Coorgi Pandi Curry’.
    Keep up the good work and the mind open!

  • Justin Nielsen

    Botin is in Madrid Spain

  • Jessica Pently

    This is highly misleading. Dan never attributes pork to being the key to longevity in his book. The Okinawans diet is primarily plant-based. Did you actually read the book or do you deliberately misinterpret it in order to push your agenda?

    • sen

      Sarah Wilson has no clue what she is talking about. High legume and fiber consumption is barely even mentioned in any of her posts. In Okinawa, pork and meat in general were only eaten on special occasions, perhaps once a month. Low protein and low fat consumption is a central part of the Okinawan diet (protein being only 9% of macronutrients), along with Okinawans consuming the vast majority of their calories from anthocyanin rich purple sweet potatoes as opposed to white rice in the rest of Japan.

  • PKBitchGirl

    Tara’s probably a vegan, talking about how intelligent pigs are is a way to stop you eating pigs, then vegans move onto why it’s bad to eat another species and so on, they bring up pigs because they’re hoping to push you towards veganism

    The latest nonsense is ‘if you consume dairy, you’re a rape apologist’

  • mike mok

    If it is conclusively established about the benefits of eating pork, there may be more consumption of it. Some religious groups may have to portray it in a better light. Say that pork is wrongly condemned to be bad. Far from it, there is no ban but a sad and unnecessary abstaining of eating it. In fact this beautiful creature is in many ways similar to us, human beings. There are hybrids in laboratory that have organs similar to that of human beings and preliminary experiments in organ transfers between the two are remarkably successful and results are way above expectation. Very soon human beings do not have to wait long for an organ transfer. It is a matter of days. Long live the pig!