25 January 2010

Much Easier To Find Wild Harry Haggis In States

It is the 25th of January and that can only mean one thing: the birthday of Robert Burns, the Scottish national poet. Many remember Burns as a great Scottish cultural nationalist, a man whose poetry is celebrated and whose favorite dish, the wild harry haggis, is a staple of Burns suppers.

Sure, Burns Night is an "invented tradition," as Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger would tell you. But such things hardly undermine the fun of downing a few drams of good whiskey, devouring a few neeps and tatties, and savoring a lovely, aesthetically pleasing boiled sheep's stomach stuffed with sheep innards, oatmeal, suit, and pepper. Mmm, haggis! As Burns himself wrote:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn,
they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve,
Are bent lyke drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
"Bethankit!" 'hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro' bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' heads will sned,
Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a haggis!

For the past 21-years, however, this vital element of Scottish national culture, one might even say the very stomach of Scottish national identity, was savagely banned by the US government. Ex-patriot Scots, or simply Americans of Scottish descent, were strictly forbidden from importing a good Scottish sheep stomach. The result was bootleg haggis, vegetarian haggis, and illicit homemade haggis. The frustration among Americans was pronounced. As one would-be haggis-eater, Margaret Frost, told the Guardian: "We have had to put up with the US version, which is made of beef and is bloody awful." A travesty, to be sure.

Thankfully, perhaps as a result of a long-running campaign by the Scottish National Party, or maybe because of a new pudding-friendly Glasnost among American politicians, the ban is lifted. The haggis may run free in the States yet again.

Now we must sit back to see whether haggis-fed Americans are inspired to demand Scottish independence and to support the SNP in the same way that Irish-Americans supported various Irish groups throughout much of the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Will this haggis have political legs—longer on one side of its body than the other, as is true of wild haggises that, according to legend wander Scottish hillsides either clockwise or counter-clockwise by gender when searching for mates—or will this new addition to the American diet simply inspire legions of Americans seeking to answer the immortal question: "Is it true that you are what you eat?"

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