After the long, dark days of Dry January and/or Veganuary, along comes the long-dead Robert Burns as a gatecrasher starting a party with a haggis and a bottle of whisky, writes Stephen Jardine.
In terms of revelations, it was a bombshell. The news that haggis sales in England now outstrip Scotland was like discovering our national football team have been in the pay of the English FA all these years. Actually, that would explain quite a lot.
The newspaper headlines asked if growing sales south of the border suggest we Scots have fallen out of love with our national dish. “Scots reject haggis as majority is now sold in England and Wales” screamed one tabloid headline.
Ahead of tonight’s Burns Night celebrations, I’m delighted to reassure the nation that all is well in the land of the haggis. While 60 per cent of major supplier Simon Howie’s sales may be in England and Wales, with a combined population of 60 million compared to our 4.5 million, it is not surprising most sales occur where most people live.
Instead of our taste dwindling, what we are actually seeing is an increase in demand from people elsewhere in the UK who have finally discovered what we have always known, that haggis is delicious and nutritious. From a Burns Supper in a wigwam in Shoreditch (of course) to one on a barge floating down the Thames and even a Burns rave in Dalston, it is hard to move in London this weekend without bumping into a bard-related event.
Highland innovators Mac and Wild claim to be starting a ‘haggis revolution’ with a week of dinners and special events at their multiple branches across London. “Perhaps there’s a growing population of Scots in London these days, but space is starting to get very limited,” they warn on their website. Even the big brands are getting in on the action with national chain Byron serving up haggis burgers and Irn-Bru milk shakes. It may just be the delicious taste of the haggis that is behind the growth in its popularity but perhaps other factors are at work. Just as on St Patrick’s Day, the entire population of America seems to become Irish, perhaps Burns Night is becoming our own version of that.
In London, anyone with a second cousin twice removed who once went to St Andrews and thought it was a bit cold suddenly comes over all Scottish on January 25th. For one day, they rise above the vast cosmopolitan cultural melting pot that is the metropolis and position themselves as rooted and real.
But there may be another reason for the rise in popularity of this date in the calendar. Think about it. For 24 days we have been subjected to the hair-shirt misery of the new year via the twin horsemen of the food-and-drink apocalypse, Veganuary and Dry January.
Since Hogmanay we’ve been nagged to nibble kale without even being able to turn to a large gin and tonic to help force it down. All of that comes with the promise that “New Year means New You”. However by this date in the calendar it has become clear, the new gym membership just means we are poorer rather than thinner or fitter. At that moment, the spirit of a long-dead Scottish poet crashes through the door with a bottle of whisky in one hand and a sheep’s stomach in the other. Burns Night is not just a great Scottish tradition, it is also welcome relief from the misery of January for us all.