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Britain wants Americans to dine on haggis

Cooked half haggis (, Christelle Vaillant)

Could our nation’s 43-year ban on sheep’s lung finally be lifted?

Britain’s environment secretary, Owen Paterson, was in Washington Monday to convince Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the United States’ culinary experience is lacking without proper haggis – the famous Scottish dish – on the menu.

The lung is a central component of the dish, so without it, it’s not true haggis. But the U.S. determined in 1971 that lung is inedible and so would not allow it in the country. All Scottish lamb has been banned here since the mad cow disease scare in 1989, though that is now being renegotiated as part of the ongoing U.S.-European Union trade talks.

In 2010, a false rumor spread that the haggis ban would be lifted, just as Scottish Americans celebrated Burns Night, a late-January celebration of the 18th-century poet Robert Burns, where a traditional supper includes haggis in various forms. But the U.S. government quickly squashed that, noting that it was reviewing the ban on lamb products generally, but not specifically on lung consumption.

We’re awaiting comment from USDA or the British embassy regarding how the meeting went Monday. Ahead of the talks, Scottish Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael told the Guardian, “As for haggis, all I can say is, the Americans don’t know what they’re missing. Let’s try to put that right, too.” (Others may disagree – many consider haggis right up there with black pudding on the list of the world’s grossest foods.)

Haggis, even Americanized, isn’t easy to find in Washington. Two restaurants that had it locally closed recently. The Scottish Merchant in Old Town, Alexandria, which sells Scottish merchandise, carries U.S.-made haggis in a can. A clerk who answered the phone there Monday said the store sells about 180 cans a year, and no one, to his recollection, has complained that it’s not the real deal.

So, what exactly is real haggis? According to a recipe on the BBC Web site:

  • 1 sheep’s stomach or ox secum, cleaned and thoroughly, scalded, turned inside out and soaked overnight in cold salted water

  • heart and lungs of one lamb

  • 450g/1lb beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean

  • 2 onions, finely chopped

  • 225g/8oz oatmeal

  • 1 tbsp salt

  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

  • 1 tsp ground dried coriander

  • 1 tsp mace

  • 1 tsp nutmeg

  • water, enough to cook the haggis

  • stock from lungs and trimmings



Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.

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