Talk:high on the hog
It is sometimes asserted (The Unbearable Whiteness of White Meat, Ron Rosenbaum, Slate) that the phrase originates in slavery, due to slaves being given only the lower cuts of pork to eat. This seems implausible for two reasons.
Firstly, the citations I’ve found are all from the 20th century – 1912 at earliest – and only AHD (of idioms) gives “late 1800s” (OED gives 1940s!). It may have originated earlier, but that’s quite a gap.
Secondly, this phrase seems to refer to shifting fortunes – when times are good, one eats high off the hog; when times are lean (sorry), one eats low off the hog – and thus would refer to free people (whose fortunes change), rather than slaves (who always would be eating low off the hog). Simply, high cuts were generally prized even before slavery (or at least independently of it), and plantation practices were simply another effect of this.
If anyone has further references or citations to shed more light, I would be appreciative – thanks!