The spirit of Prohibition lives (if you’re a haggis)

The American character abounds in paradoxes. This is one of them

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

It is an old adage, but still pertinent. ‘Every generalisation about India is true, and so is the opposite.’ The other night, some of us were discussing the US and wondering if the same applied. Certainly, there are lots of paradoxes. Although Americans passionately believe that they live in the land of the free, there is plenty of enthusiasm for chains. A few years ago, the state of Vermont simultaneously legalised homosexual marriage and prohibited the serving of fried eggs unless they were ‘over easy’ — i.e. bent over. There is a terrible amount of food faddism. Outside the big cities, it is hard to find cheese made with raw milk, and the coral of scallops is routinely thrown away. In some states, there are moves to ban foie gras. There would probably be greater pressure to do so if more Americans had heard of the stuff. The prohibitory instinct did not expire with the repeal of Prohibition.

On a wall in Berry Bros & Rudd, there is a letter from one of the most idiotic Americans of all time, up there with Jimmy Carter: William Eugene ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson. An advocate of Prohibition, he ran the Anti-Saloon League. Not content with making trouble in his own country, he had the nerve to visit England to try to propagate his noxious doctrine. There are worse afflictions than Mormons or Scientologists. He even wrote a letter to the reigning Berry, advising him to train his son for some other profession; the wine trade would not long endure.

The Berrys appear to have been delighted by his absurdity; they reacted rather as Mr Bennet did to the Revd Mr Collins. Elsewhere, however, the response was not so polite. Chaps did not laugh behind their hands, for they needed those hands to rough him up and throw stones at him. He lost an eye when hit by a projectile flung from a hostile crowd. Poor fellow.

A poster announcing the arrival of ‘Pussyfoot’, William E. Johnston Photo: Getty

Pussyfoot is long since mouldering, but something goes marching on. It is impossible to export haggis to the United States. The official excuse for this bastard offspring of Prohibition is that haggis contains the minced-up lungs of sheep. It certainly ought to, because that was the original point of the Great Chieftain: to turn the bits of sheep that were otherwise inedible into a component of a glorious dish. There is also a case for one single concession to the bunny-huggers from the bunny-boilers. Carnivores should try to eat as much of the slaughtered animal as possible.

It was appropriate that Ranald Macdonald provided the feast at which we all bemoaned the ban on haggis. Some ancestor of his probably sailed with Harald Bluetooth, or whoever, on the first voyage of discovery to North America. But there is an obvious explanation for all the nonsense. The Americans took their independence too early. If they had stayed under British tutelage for another couple of centuries, no one would have dreamed up Prohibition. They would also have learned to play proper sports. American football is like rugger after a couple of lobotomies, and as for baseball…

I have often pointed out that baseball is played over here, in girls’ schools, where it is called rounders. Speaking slowly, I have then tried to explain cricket. But it was impossible. A five-day match ending in a draw: the cultural gap is too great. That said, premature independence has not prevented them from making serious wine, which is eternally true of another troubled former colony. In Bordeaux, good years are sometimes neglected because they are overshadowed by a neighbouring stellar vintage. That was true of the ’62s and ’64s, after the glories of ’61. Because of the 2000s, It is also the case with the 2001s. But I have recently tasted the Pontet-Canet and the Pichon-Longueville: both excellent. If you have any decent ’01s in the cellar, pleasure awaits.

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