The vast majority of my ancestors are Pennsylvania Dutch. Born in raised in central Pa, that's not even slightly uncommon. The Pennsylvania Dutch tend to be overtly practical people. And we are also a bit... economical. (That means we tend to be cheap, but my aunts do not like that word, and always tell me to use economical or thrifty in its place.)
I've always assumed there had to be a more practical reason for the New Years meal. Pigs are typically slaughtered in the fall, cabbage harvested after a couple of light frosts, then it takes some time to ferment into sauerkraut. Both are foods that preserve well, and could be kept well on the farm long before the days of freezers and Amazon grocery delivery. To my way of thinking, it was simply a practical, hearty winter meal that most farm families had on hand.
But today I came across this 1830 newspaper article, that added a bit more reason for sauerkraut being lucky - it was considered "antiscorbutic." In 1801, sailing ships took about six weeks to cross the Atlantic. With adverse winds or bad weather the journey could take as long as 14 weeks. Scurvy, a painful, exhausting disease, occurs after about four weeks of vitamin C deficiency. Our ancestors, traveling to the new land, had little access to fruits and vegetables on that journey.
Sauerkraut, rich in vitamin c, "has long been in use on board of the German and Dutch national vessels, as well as merchant ships, the crews of which, even during the longest voyages, remain perfectly free from scorbutic complaints." The meal became a favorite dish among the "robust inhabitants of the north of Europe during their long and rigorous winters. It is recommended by cheapness, savour, salubrity, and simplicity of preparation."
Now THAT sound like my ancestors. If sauerkraut kept their ancestors healthy on the trip to America, then sauerkraut to start the year would keep their families healthy.
So why pork? If any of the Pennsylvania Dutch men I know were to say "the pig always pushes forward for better food as the symbol of man's hope for a better life in the near year, instead of the meat of a fowl which scratches the earth backwards," they would say it with a twinkle in their eye - they would most certainly be pulling your leg.
"A piece of fat pork, beef, or a fat goose enclosed with Sauerkraut in a closed tin vessel and stewed for three hours, forms an excellent dish, and is far more valuable as it can be had at seasons of the year, and under circumstances that vegetables cannot be procured."
Pork was cheap, available to most Pennsylvania farmers, and paired well with the sauerkraut. It's a good, economical, hearty, meal. And any Pennsylvania Dutch housewife would believe it necessary to start the year off with her family well fed. Being able to do so economically, and with a meal that does not require too much work to prepare, is good luck in itself.