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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
The politics of sausages
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

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Just as the Italians and French embrace local dishes as part of their cultural identity, so too is that most British of foods, the sausage, enjoying a renaissance in the UK.

Just five years ago, with the traditional cooked breakfast in decline, it looked as if Britons were falling out of love with the banger. Today, the sizzle is back, with consumption up 17%. Forecasters say the nation will eat 189,000 tonnes this year, the equivalent of 140 sausages each.

As a quintessential British dish, the sausage has benefited from the increasing interest in Britishness, along with crumbles and other nursery favourites. Whereas once British cuisine suffered from cultural cringe, today it is embraced by celebrity chefs and the public alike.

"It's OK to stand up now and be British, and that has helped the interest in British food," says Kevin Finch, the owner of the Sausage and Mash cafe chain. "People are looking again at the way we used to eat before there were decent restaurants to go to.

Once a staple of the British diet
"Not only is it OK to be British, it is OK to be working class - our mockney, celebrity culture is attracted to the motifs of working class life. It's now cool to go to caffs, to eat sausages and shepherd's pie."

But it is in trendy caffs that many now eat gourmet sausages. For the banger has been reinvented as "posh nosh", according to market analysts Mintel. Sales rose by 4.6% last year, with demand for premium varieties up 7%.

Nation of foodies

This new-found enthisiasm for British food has sparked interest in regional specialities, which in many areas includes sausages.

Among the food and drink trails promoted by Visit Britain, among the most popular are the sausage trails. Butchers and artisan producers use quality meats, often from local herds or wild game caught in the area. Order sausages in Gloucestershire, for instance, and the meat will probably have come from Gloucester Old Spot pigs. Even vegetarians are better catered for, with varieties such as Caerphilly cheese and leek now available.

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"Along with great British foods such as cheese and real ale, the sausage is emblematic of British culture and taste," says Fiona Richmond of Slow Food, an international campaign for the preservation and enjoyment of traditional regional dishes.

"The British passion for sausage was nowhere more apparent to me than at this year's Ludlow Food and Drink Festival. Long, early morning queues forming to obtain tickets for the sausage trail."

Alexia Robinson, the organiser of British Food Fortnight, say the British feel about sausages the way the French feel about cheese.

And as consumers become more concerned about where their food comes from, the sausage is one of the best-possible advertisements for quality produce.

"If I had to choose one product to really make someone think about the food they buy, it would be the sausage," says Ms Robinson.

"I would say have a bite of this bland, mass-produced sausage and compare it with one from a local butcher, who has used quality meat and which sums up the flavour and character of the region. I rest my case."

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