Here's a story to knock Bake Off scandals right out of your head.
The US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, has had it up to the scrag end with eating lamb and potatoes, it turns out. While apparently the new ambassador has otherwise been a breath of fresh air, this news has inspired a lot of bleating from British chefs and foodies, who love the fluffy stuff. The chef of the Café Anglais has bluntly suggested, "Americans don't get lamb". Which means either we simply can't understand it or we'll no longer get served it at the Café Anglais, no matter how much we beg.
I've lived here for more than a decade, but - it's true - before I came to the UK I rarely ate lamb. We used to have chops in Texas where I grew up - these were "sourced" from the chain supermarket where they came shrinkwrapped on a little Styrofoam plate. Farm to table it wasn't. When my mother went on a health-kick during my primary school years, the chops disappeared in favour of okra stew, and that was that.
Now I'm married to an Englishman who loves lamb. He would have a joint every Sunday if it were up to him, and it usually is since he's the one cooking. Over time he has converted me and I can now say that I do like lamb (chops, kebabs, curries and shepherd's pie) although I'm still holding out over crackling. But this issue of Americans being prejudiced against a whole category of meat interests me.
A writer in today's Times muses on why that is: Could it be the taste? The amount of fat? Possibly. But I think it's less about the meat and more about the message.
Consider the difference between low-profile lamb and pork, which was the beneficiary in the US of a massive marketing campaign during my childhood.
"Pork, the Other White Meat" was a huge campaign in the late '80s. It combatted negative ideas of pig products as bad for your cholesterol and your waistline. (Also big around that time: "Beef, it's what for dinner".) Pork sales in the US rose 20%, reaching $30 billion annually by 1991 (according to Wikipedia, but still).
More importantly, the young people who saw it have grown up to be shoppers who see pig on menus and in chillers and reach for it as their mouths water. In Austin this summer I visited a restaurant that specialises in bacon, including bloody marys garnished with a crisp slice of streaky.
It's simple, really. It's not about flavour or fat content at all. If lamb wants to find its way into more American mouths, it just needs to get onto the promotional bandwagon, toot its own horn, and recast itself as "the Cute Meat" or "Lamb - we're not all baaaaad" or similar slogan. Hire Beyonce to one-up Lady Gaga and wear a lamb dress.
It would have Americans eating out of its, er, hands for years to come. Never mind the taste, what's the Super Bowl ad look like? Of course once lamb is the dish at every fashionable American dinner party and grilled at every backyard barbecue, we'll end up sending all our delicious lamb over there.
On second thought, let's keep the whole thing on the down-low. If the American ambassador comes to dinner, serve him chicken.Suggest a correction