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The mighty haggis

Note: It might be an idea not to read this particular story if you’re having breakfast. Or lunch, for that matter.

As you know, we’re firm advocates of British cuisine. Marmite in the cupboard, pasties in the oven, and fish and chip paper in the bin. So it came as something of a shock, while reading an interesting feature in the Guardian about banned foodstuffs – largely cheeses made using insect poo, it seems – to discover that haggis is banned in America.

And it’s not just banned, it’s been banned since 1971.

I was born in 1971, with two Scottish surnames as my name. I can’t help but take this personally.

It seems the problem is proper haggis is made using offal, and one of the offal bits that gets minced up and thrown in is sheep’s lung. This contravenes US Department of Agriculture rules about the sort of thing you can expect humans to eat, and they put a ban in force that exists to this day. Any American-made version of haggis omits the sheep-lung completely, and has to make do with… other stuff… instead.

(This seems a good point to reiterate that saying about laws and sausages. If you tell a non-haggis eater the constituent ingedients are, they won’t eat it, even though it’s delicious.)

Bearing in mind the strong sense of tradition that haggis carries with it – the Scots pipe the thing in, using bagpipes, on Burns night. A quick burger before the movies it is not – the idea that one of the ingredients can be just left out has met with stiff resistance from American Scots over the years. However, the versions of haggis that can be bought over the meat counter in America have had to be modified.

A recent BBC News report investigated haggis manufacture in the US, and found that while imported Scottish cereals are key, no British beef or mutton offal can be imported into America, so local alternatives have had to be found (apart from the sheep lung).

One manufacturer, Ronald Grant Thurston, who makes McKean’s Haggis in Bangor, Maine, explained that what the US version lacks in properly authentic authenticity, it makes up for in flavor:

“As an American who’s not used to eating lungs, it’s an improvement.”

Which should really be on a T-shirt or something, don’t you think?

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Filed Under: British Food, Haggis, Scotland
By Fraser McAlpine