Haggis

There’s a bit of a problem when it comes to developing an opinion of an idea of food, especially when that idea runs dead on into the reality of said food. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week as the United States Department of Agriculture considers lifting a 21-year import ban on haggis.

Haggis is one of those foods that allows for people to develop an opinion about it without actually having tasted it. Talk to your average American about haggis, and they’re bound to reply with some level of knowledge.

“It’s made in Sheep’s stomachs”, some might say.

“There’s oatmeal in it”, others might contribute.

“It’s Scottish, isn’t it?”, still others will add.

And many will either wrinkle their nose at it, or perhaps consider the fact that haggis can be made with sheep’s hearts, livers, and yes, even lungs. This is the part that makes me shake my head. I want to ask these people if they’ve tried haggis before showing their disgust. It would be a pointless question, to be sure, because their actions have already answered it before even asked.

Rest assured, for those of you who are curious, haggis, when made well, is quite delicious. It is peppery, savory, and has a texture which is not much different from ground beef. When made poorly, it’s just as disappointing as a badly made corned beef and hash.

So what brings haggis into the world as a culinary novelty? The ingredients, plain and simple. For some, the “novelty” of using offal in a dish offers the opportunity to imply the oddness of the Scottish diet. The dish allows them to cast hinted-at aspersions on the exotic tendencies of others. We see this all the time when people talk about foods from other cultures.

The reality of this, for me, is that the novelty surrounding dishes such as these actually shines a light onto those casting those aforementioned aspersions. If we lived in a country where brains, hearts, and lungs were eaten on a regular basis, then haggis would hardly be a blip on our cultural radar.

Maybe it’s no big deal for me because of the way I was raised. I grew up seeing deer, rabbit, and other game animals gutted every hunting season, with most every part of the animal used in some sort of dish. I’d like to think that farmers of livestock have found very little of interest in haggis, because they know that such dishes make the most economic sense.

Or perhaps I’ve gotten it all wrong, and people are actually freaked out by the use of oatmeal in such a dish, an ingredient we here in the States rarely use for anything but a healthy breakfast, and topped with nothing more complex than cream, butter, and brown sugar.

Nah. ‘Cause we Americans tend to see blood pudding in the same exact light.