Will Brexit bug become the bane of the British banger?

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The humble sausage sandwich, a British standby: but is the banger at risk from the Brexit bug?

Before I tackle the latest threat to the British banger, let me mention a historical and fictional one that it called to mind.

How many people nowadays remember that glorious 1980s television series Yes, Minister, written by Sir Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn? The hapless Jim Hacker, normally bamboozled in his position as Minister for Administrative Affairs by Whitehall mandarin Sir Humphrey Appleby (brilliantly played by the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne), contrived one particular political triumph that won him votes and, eventually (and fictitiously), the premiership – hence the subsequent series of Yes, Prime Minister.

Hacker’s finest hour came when he embarked on a voter-pleasing strategy, taking on the might of Europe over its (also fictitious) determination that Britain should not be allowed to call its sausage by that name, but instead something like “emulsified offal-tube”. Jim (actor Paul Eddington) declared war against the Brussels bureaucrats on behalf of the British banger, and won.

Back in the Eighties, feelings were running high about the EEC’s (as it was then) determination to require straight cucumbers and other regulated fruit shapes: though three decades before anyone dreamt of Brexit, the episode played to our insular instincts and remains a hilarious episode to watch (we own the boxed set).

Right now there’s a suggestion that Brussels is hitting back! Last week’s Sunday Times revealed that a “Brexit virus” is hitting some 10% of UK sausages. The headline is typical shock-horror stuff: but it appears there is a nasty new strain of Hepatitis E (HEV) linked to pig-farms in France Holland, Germany and Denmark.

The paper reckons it’s infecting more than 60,000 Brits a year. Pregnant women and transplant patients are most at risk from the virus which attacks the liver and nerves. The Food Standards Agency says that 93% of British pigs are now infected, and 6% produce enough of the virus to infect humans.

It’s not to be laughed at: the paper gives an example of one patient who reckons a “serious salami habit” caused him to catch the virus in severe form: salami (like Parma or Serrano ham) is not cooked but cured, so the virus is not killed by heat.

And the advice we’re given? Cook your pork thoroughly: never eat it pink or undercooked, cook bacon until crispy; and make sure your sausages are steaming hot all the way through.

Oh, really? That’s where I began to laugh. My generation, at any rate, has never eaten pink pork and generally objects to any chef suggesting that we should. We were taught that, just as you should never consume pink chicken for fear of salmonella, you must always cook pork thoroughly. In my youth, I suspect the concern was about tapeworms rather than a virus: but pork has always been a dodgy meat, not to be trifled with. Maybe that’s why some religions and cultures eschew it.

How easily we forget these things. But then the old wives’ tales learnt at our mothers’ knees turn out after all to be based in sound practice. So I shall continue to enjoy exquisite pork belly, a speciality of the Red Lion in Milfield (where I celebrated my birthday yesterday). I’ll carry on enjoying the sausage or bacon sandwiches that get me through a long morning at work now I’m doing (for a few weeks) a long morning commute into Newcastle. As for that glorious Italian or Spanish ham … well they’re not saying the virus has got to those countries yet!

Take care. Cook it properly. That’s all the advice that’s needed. Still, it’s not long ago that we were being warned that processed meats (including bacon and sausages) were as bad for us as red meat, wine, all forms of fat and carbs – and most other things except quinoa and anything with liquidised kale in it.

To hell with all that. I’m with the inscription on the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi, which urges, μηδὲν ἄγαν (meden agan): moderation in all things.

Trouble is, moderation requires more self-restraint than I possess. Maybe, while I continue my search for that elusive quality, I’ll help to preserve the reputation and marketability of the Great British Banger by just reaching for one more sausage sandwich…

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