27 January 2010

Pumping the breaks on Haggis

I joined many others several days ago in rejoicing over the news that American bans on the importation of haggis were being lifted.

Not so fast, reports the Beeb:
BBC News | Stephen Mulvey | US not ready to lift ban on Scottish haggis

But just as Burns Night was getting under way in the US, and reaching its climax in the UK, an e-mail came through from the US Department of Agriculture, quashing the good news.

"Recently, several news articles have incorrectly stated that the US will be relaxing or lifting its ban on Scottish haggis," a spokeswoman wrote.

A review of the ban on beef and lamb products was under way, she said, but there was no specific time frame for its completion. [...]

But there appears to be another problem for the most traditional haggis producers - since 1971 the US has banned food made with sheep's lung. [...]

Haggis producer Fraser MacGregor of Cockburn's in Dingwall says, "If it hasn't got lamb's lung, it isn't haggis." It makes up 10 to 15% of the entire recipe, he says.

So to open the path for Transatlantic trade in true haggis, two rules will have to be changed, and as far as the BBC has been able to determine, only one is currently even being reviewed.
[Frowny face.]

Welp, only one thing to do now: return to Scotland for some straight-from-the-source haggis! Who's coming with me?
Even supposing the US were to lift all haggis trade barriers, it's not clear how big a hit the dish would be with US consumers. The New York Times once wrote that it had "an august reputation for repulsiveness".

"They don't have the same culture of eating offal," points out Jo Macsween.

"In Europe there is respect for the whole animal and nothing should be wasted, in America it's more prime cuts, fillet and sirloin."

When Americans try it, she says, they invariably love it and cannot understand their government's import ban.
I see Macsween's point, Americans definitely don't like offal as much. But with the wave of artisanal charcuterie going around, I think the time might be right for haggis in America. Plus there's more and more people in the cosmopolitan/bohemian camp where it's gauche to look down your nose on sweetbreads or tripe.

A side note on the "respect for the whole animal and nothing should be wasted" thing. That's a polite way of saying "people were too poor and meat too expensive to throw any away." It's not some sort of spiritual, one-with-nature thing, it's just waste not want not butchering. I happen to like food with peasant roots (which is why I tend to like Italian much more than French cooking) but I like it because it tastes good, it's cheap and it's easy to make, not because of some respect-the-animal gaian philosophy.

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