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Why Ham Prices Are Fatter This Holiday

Overweight pigs have yielded legs too big for the most popular cut
Why Ham Prices Are Fatter This Holiday
Illustration by Tane Williams

Never mind that pork wasn’t even on the menu at the 1621 feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at Plymouth Colony; millions still consider it a Thanksgiving staple, right up there with turkey, cranberries, and football. This year, however, ham lovers will have to pay dearly for their holiday fix. Thanks to an unlikely turn of events, ham has never been more expensive. Retail prices through October were up 26 percent, to a record $3.43 a pound, government data show. One of the main reasons: U.S. pigs have become too fat.

Hogs in the U.S. are at their highest recorded weight because farmers fed them longer this year to make up for losses caused by a virus that killed millions of piglets. While heavier hogs mean more pork per animal, their hind legs—the source of the ham cut—exceed the size used for producing 7-pound, spiral-cut “half hams,” which typically serve as many as 14 people. The wholesale price of the cut more than doubled this year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.