The unseen haggis

An arsonist in Glasgow accidentally sets himself ablaze. In hospital he is fed only haggis, neeps and tatties for breakfast, lunch and supper. Upon asking about his bizarre diet, the head nurse says: “Well, sir, this is

the Burns Unit.” Ba-boom. Thanks, I’m here all week.

Yes, last Friday was Burns Night, a celebration of Scottish poetry and the noble haggis. Last week’s media featured shocking news (admittedly not very near the front pages) that haggis exports were down due to a shortage of butchers and restrictions on offal imports from Britain. The anti-haggis sentiment I encounter has much to do with that word: ‘offal’. People don’t like it. And unless you grow up with it, a product made of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, all stuffed into its stomach and then boiled, is unlikely to challenge turkey twizzlers and big-macs for mass appeal.

The odd thing is that most processed meat (burgers; doner kebabs; pieces of poultry shaped like dinosaurs and impossibly pink sausages) can probably only aspire to the dizzy heights of hearts and lungs. There’s a good chance they’re made of finely minced ear, snout, foot and face of cow/pig/horse/sheep. Most of us know this yet few of us seem to mind. So why the popular prejudice against haggis (or tripe, or foreign delicacies like sheep’s eye)?

Here’s a theory. It is not the ingredients that we object to. It’s their brazenness in admitting that they’re made of bits of animal we’ve decided aren’t good enough for us.

We prefer unpleasant truth to stay politely hidden. Tell a story about wringing the neck of a chicken for the pot or slaughtering a sheep by cutting its throat and watch the faces around you. Suggest that every meat-eater has a go at killing at least one of the thousands of animals we will eat throughout our lives. The word ‘barbaric’ will come up.

We prefer to think that meat grows in fillets, under cellophane. We hate to be reminded that there is anything messy, ugly or sacrificial in the process. And that’s not just painfully childish, it’s dangerous. By living in the bland, sanitized world that supermarkets try to convince us is reality, we’re not just being the grown-up equivalent of kids who can’t watch the end of Bambi or Old Yeller in case we cry, we’re sticking our fingers in our ears and refusing to hear God’s call to be good stewards.

If you never make the connection between the meat you eat and the animal it comes from, how will you ever value it as a gift from God’s creation? And if you cannot see it as that, how will you care, that the amount you’re consuming means that forests are being cut down to create grazing for your food? If you cannot acknowledge that something had to die to feed you today, how could you care that while you throw food away, others are hungry?

Distance from the source of things, from meat to oil and all the manufactured goods in-between, enables us to pretend we have no duties, just rights. We can talk about ‘low levels of poverty’ without blushing, only if we assume that only our country matters and those producing our goods elsewhere on slave wages do not count because we do not see them. We can create ‘solutions’ little better than our problems (electric cars whose electricity comes from burning coal; ‘clean’ nuclear power distanced from us by time, leaving toxic waste for our grandchildren) only if our vision is so radically limited we only ever look at ourselves. But if we think continuing to keep things out of sight is a viable solution, we truly are out of our minds.

This is a work of pure genuis:


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