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Storm in a frying pan

The row over sending great British bangers to Bangor illustrates a dismal lack of gastronomic culture

This article is taken from the August/September 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

Has anyone actually asked them? I mean have operatives from the Northern Ireland Food Advisory Committee polled the Men of Peace and their progeny on the Falls Road?

Do we know for certain that republicans really want to consume “the great British banger” given the loyalist name, not to mention the constituents of the foul cylinder? Some years ago I described this anti-delicacy as “abattoir slurry in a condom” and demonstrated in a telly film how to achieve the full culinary nadir which also includes flavour enhancers, colorants, stabilisers, emulsifiers, hydrogenators and lots of bread. Nothing has changed.

At least I assume it hasn’t. I’m not so rash as to risk trying one: I have gagged on the stench of “full Ingerlish” (including bacon that discharges what might be called matutinal emissions) in far too many fully Ingerlish hotels.

The banal paradox of English taste is that what is acceptable when denatured is repulsive when undisguised

The Bobby Sands Diet Plan is a more attractive proposition than the baton of ground sludge or the slurry quoit without its casing, the “burger” which is unprotected and may then have unwanted consequences. MRM — mechanically recovered meat — is the usual euphemism for slurry which is whooshed off the killing surfaces with a Karcher or an (illegal) water cannon of the sort that the former mayor of London was attracted to. Nothing goes to waste.

That hosing down is not a pretty sight. But nor are abattoir practices in general. We try not to think about them. We kid ourselves that they are humane. We rue the privileges granted to cults who plead that their superstitions are not superstitions but sacred dogma received from the wrathful bastard whom Peter Nichols called “the manic depressive rugby footballer in the sky”.

It’s God who greedily gets off on a slit throat spurting, a punctured body collapsing. We are more fastidious than God. We look away squeamishly, pretend it’s not happening.

The banal paradox of English taste, of the limits of its (sub) gastronomy is that what is acceptable when denatured is reckoned repulsive when it is undisguised. The English are always prepared to express disgust: yuck! Eyes, udder, spinal cord, tripe, brain, mesentery, chitterlings, jejunum, duodenum, spleen, heart, lungs, testicles, blood, ears, tails, bone marrow, muzzle, tongue, cheek, trotter — they all find their way into English “meat-style” products.

With exception of eyes and udder (worryingly akin to Spam) they are all served without camouflage, variously and ubiquitously, in Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Germany, Belgium. This candour is a mark of superior gastronomic civilisations, maybe of civilisations tout court.

Ingerlandland is forever behind, a dull and backward slow learner which doesn’t want to learn: “we don’t need no education” is not merely an imbecilic pop song but a national mantra.

The slurried condom often prefixed “great” is a token of a “patriotism” which is mere xenophobia without the tattoos

The exceptions are the St John restaurants in London where Fergus Henderson, whose motto is “everything but the squeal, the baaa and the mooo”, is a chef who would be delighted to be plagiarised. But after almost three decades there are still — predictably, depressingly — few disciples. Cooking with candour has not gone mainstream.

Maybe it is destined to remain peripheral in a culture which, no matter how complex its demographic mutations, remains post-Protestant, philistine, golf playing, with distressingly deep roots in Surrey, a profound mistrust of catholic Europe, a bloated sense of its own place in the world.

Hence, in the face of all palatal evidence to the contrary, the slurried condom is routinely prefixed “great” and is a token of “patriotism” which is merely xenophobia without the tattoos.

Jacques Chirac claimed to belong to la droite tête de veau — a fake peasant riposte to la gauche caviar. He considered he was defined or pretended to be defined by what he ate and drank (beer as it happens).

Edgar Morin’s attractive proposal that “the kernel of every culture is gastronomic” would make sense if “every culture” had the good fortune to be French. But it’s hardly applicable to Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

There is here a clear illustration that Morin’s maxim belongs to the food and beverage department of identity politics. For all its ghastliness — maybe because of that ghastliness — food is not a British marker of British identity that the British wittingly foist upon themselves. Those chefs who can, cook; those who can’t, gurn on camera. Food is mendaciously photographed as a form of fashion item in magazines.

Arrive at any London terminus or major provincial station and the first thing that hits you is the stench of cheap frying oil and the sight of big bottomed waddlers shoving unidentifiable meat-rich snacks into their shiny moist maw.

Force feeding has come out of the H Block. It is voluntary now. It’s what a caste that has never heard of Lord Diplock does to itself, extraordinarily, in an access of unacknowledged masochism.

Did anyone check with the Falls Road that the noble lord was a gift from Westminster that Northern Ireland wanted? Any man in a balaclava will tell you he was an instrument of colonial oppressionjust like a sausage.

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