Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, has been banned in the U.S. since 1971. Every few years there's a push to legalize haggis. Every few years, the answer is no. (Perhaps a clever hashtag like #LegalizeHaggis is the answer? Hashtags make things happen. I'm going to get right on that now.)
Usually the #LegalizeHaggis movement focuses on things like, "It's not fair to deny Scottish-Americans their God-given right to haggis," and, "It's not that unsafe to eat sheep organs," and "Maybe if you legalize haggis you'll get Mike Myers to do a fourth major movie character with a Scottish accent."
During the most recent #LegalizeHaggis push, a U.K. politician took a different approach. He claimed that the U.S. needs haggis to cure the obesity problem. Ian McColl, a surgeon and a member of the House of Lords, said, "Haggis satisfie[s] hunger very much more than the junk food which Americans consume." More haggis, less junk food.
Is he correct? To figure that out, we have to understand what haggis is.
Haggis is a pudding -- but it's a pudding in a way that a Rocky Mountain oyster is an oyster or that sweetbreads are bread. The ingredients are as follows:
You mince all the stuff up, mix it together and serve it in a sheep's stomach. You know, just in case you felt like you hadn't hit your threshold of sheep organs yet.
The reason it's banned in the U.S. is the sheep lung; the FDA classifies sheep lung as unsafe to eat. And while you could make haggis without the lung, that's like holding an 'Nsync reunion without Chris Kirkpatrick -- not the main ingredient, but necessary for authenticity.
Whether you think haggis sounds gross or not isn't really at issue here. Ethnic foods are acquired tastes -- as I've heard from my many non-Jewish friends who've tried gefilte fish and don't understand how I have the palate to eat the stuff by the pallet. The issue is whether it's a good diet food.
And that's where Lord Haggiseater's argument starts crumbling like minced sheep heart.
Seven ounces of haggis has roughly 620 calories. That's 44 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs and 22 grams of protein. That would be considered a high-fat food -- two-thirds of its calories come from fat -- and not a particularly spectacular source of protein. Haggis would certainly fill you up but it's hard to think of it as a good weight loss food.
Let's compare it to a McDonald's Big Mac. The Big Mac is also about seven ounces. It has 530 calories, 27 grams of fat, 47 grams of carbs and 24 grams of protein. In other words, haggis is basically a Big Mac but with more fat.
Also, while I believe BMI is a horrific and dangerously inaccurate metric (more on that one day), for the sake of completeness, we should take a look. The U.S. government says 69 percent of Americans are overweight or obese; the Scottish government says 63 percent of Scots are overweight or obese. That's quite the glass house to throw stones from.
So no, I don't think haggis is the miracle health remedy we've all been waiting for -- but I would like to see #LegalizeHaggis happen. I'd like to try it. The ban on haggis seems (at best) antiquated and (at worst) bumpkin-y and mildly xenophobic. Clearly sheep lungs can't be as lethal as the FDA says, since, as far as I can tell, Scottish people aren't dropping dead from self-inflicted haggis consumption at an alarming rate. After all, if Americans want to eat sheep lungs, shouldn't we be allowed to eat sheep lungs? How can we know we hate them until we try them, right?
This post was originally published on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Food & Drink.