In God is not Great Christopher Hitchens makes a claim that firefighters do not like eating pork because human flesh smells/tastes like pork. Seeing as this has the look and feel of an urban legend (and the fact that his book has other statements of similar pedigree which have proven to be contrafactual), I tried looking this up.

First, I have found that human beings, as a rule, do not taste like pork. And I have also found a number of firefighter associations which have pig roasts and the like. But I have also found the belief that "firefighters don't like pork" restated with some regularity. I was wondering if there have ever been any studies which have actually demonstrated this (or even "suggested but within the margin of error").

tl;dr Are firefighters less likely to eat pork?

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    I think the claim is that a burning human smells like a burning pig. (Firefighters don't taste cooked people, they smell burning people. Or so the idea goes. In full turnout gear--i.e., SCBA--I'm not sure how often firefighters actually smell burning flesh.) Thus, it seems to me that this question is specifically about pig roasts where one would smell the results of pig flesh heated and (to an extent) consumed by fire. This claim can be true (or false) without implying anything about how human meat tastes. Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 6:26
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    I don't think questions should be tagged by the claimant.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 9:39
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    @AndrewGrimm: We already have tags for Joseph Mercola, Richard Dawkins, Mehmet Oz, Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Wakefield, Carl Sagan, and no doubt others. This doesn't defend the practice, but suggests you should make your case in a meta-post, rather than here.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 11:14
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    @EliahKagan Either way, I have seen websites advertising "Fire Department Pig Roasts", meaning the claim is dubious at best. It would seem to reason that Mr. Hitchens would have had some justification to the belief. But then, that book is replete with factual distortions and outright falsehoods, so maybe not. Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 13:02
  • Human flesh does supposedly taste most like pork: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/4387/uses-of-horse-meat/…
    – ESultanik
    Commented Mar 17, 2013 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


No doubt, firefighters are big eaters. Active firefighting can require three times normal daily calories. It would appear that firefighters are not generally getting their calories in the healthiest way, either. Firefighters have elevated rates of "obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia", that is, bad fat and cholesterol blood counts. Firefighters are "dinosaurs, they're big meat eaters".

Chef John Sineno has plenty of pork in The New Firefighter's Cookbook including "Polish farewell to Lent": ingredients, 5 pounds fresh kielbasa and 5 pounds sauerkraut. Although some modern kielbasa is made without any pork, pork is very much typical of kielbasa. More recently WABC-TV has FDNY firefighter John Sierp's recipe for pork meatloaf.

So I suppose that in general firefighters don't avoid pork.

And does human flesh taste like pork? Martin Robbins examines the rare testimonies of cannibalistic murderers and finds that, for all that the rest of us know, it may.

What about the firefighters? Does seared human flesh smell like seared pork or pork products?

Not really.

Michelle Tsai for Slate gathered the experiences of firefighters and witnesses to atrocities. They said that burned human flesh has a repulsive fragrance like no other, something like steak and also like tanning leather. People sustain burn injuries to their intact bodies, topped with sulfurous hair, full of metallic-smelling blood and other fragrant fluids. In contrast, pigs are butchered and perhaps drained and salted before cooking.

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    also notice that different pork products can smell quite different between them when cooking, so a generic statement that "burnt human flesh smells like cooked pork" is invalid just based on that.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 8:06

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