From bendy banana ‘bans’ to vegan sausages being renamed ‘tubes,’ UK’s 45-year food fight with EU won’t end with Brexit
Duck! Watch out! You’re gonna get a mince pie in the face, a biscuit in your eye, or a chilled yoghurt tipped down the back of your pants.
Be careful, don’t move! You’ll slip on that bendy banana. The Brits and the ‘bonkers bureaucrats’ in Brussels have been chucking food at each other for more than four decades, and how we have lapped it up.
Pity the poor cleaners after a European Union summit; it must have taken them ages to sweep up all those prawn cocktail crisps and bits of Bombay mix.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t as raucous as all that in real life.
Over the years, most stories about the EU imposing rules on foodstuffs were harvested from a paragraph or two within excruciatingly dull directives from the European Commission.
There were, for example – so it was claimed – 26,911 words solely on the rules and regulations for the humble cabbage. In actual fact, it was more like 1,800, still a hefty chunk. ‘Euromyths,’ they call these things, and the EU has issued over 400 rebuttals for them.
But even the term itself has been the centre of its own bunfight, because most of these stories have at least a grain of truth to them.
Take the famed ‘ban’ on bendy bananas, for example, which first surfaced in a story in the Sun in 1994. The truth is they were never actually banned.
Bananas are classified so international traders know what they’re buying and selling, but the system was a bit of a mess. So, the EU tried to define and formalise types of banana. It was decided that they should, in general, be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers.”
This was so produce buyers at supermarkets knew what they were getting when they ordered crates filled with bananas. Fair enough.
The ‘ban’ on prawn cocktail crisps, it turned out, was actually a cock-up by the bureaucrats on the British side who had forgotten to add a key ingredient to a list of flavourings used within the EU. The list was later amended.
Never mind all that pesky detail and clarification, though. The great British public – through the nation’s excitable newspapers – have feasted on this stuff for generations.
My own particular favourite was the suggestion that fish ‘n’ chip shops could be forced to use the correct Latin names for their fish. What could possibly be tastier than a battered gadus morhua or melanogrammus aeglefinus and chips?
That’s so much more fun than a boring cod or haddock with your solanum tuberosum cut into little strips and deep fried. Pass the salt and vinegar!
Funnily enough, there was some truth to that one. The EU Commission did, for some reason, actually propose that fish had to carry their correct names and specify where they were caught.
But it wasn’t just the tabloids that got hooked into running these tales. Heavier organs such as the Times, the Guardian and even the Financial Times have also waded into battle, wielding rhubarb or a hefty curved cucumber high above their mastheads.
Maybe it all stems from the fact that being the Brussels correspondent must have been pretty much the most boring foreign gig going on planet Earth, in probably the world’s dullest city. And as any four-year-old will tell you, boredom so often leads to mischief.
These Brussels-bashing brutes from the British press were often led by a slightly dodgy Daily Telegraph correspondent by the name of Boris Johnson. That boy, ripped straight from the pages of the Beano, could go far.
Even the lofty ‘impartial’ hacks at the BBC got stuck in, from time to time. Take this list of produce that made it into a story in 2010 about a failed bid by a group of Euro MPs to re-impose an EU-wide ban on “wonky fruit and veg”: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocadoes, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons and witloof/chicory.
Oof! What a mess. As Euro MP George Lyon aptly put it at the time: “The shape of a fruit is irrelevant to its taste and nutrition. Eccentric laws about bendy bananas and curvy cucumbers lead to food wastage and exasperation with the EU.”
Exacta-mundo… but still, come on, it’s really good fun.
Many of us grew up consuming these stories, some with mild fury, and for sure it must have helped feed the narrative that led to a majority voting to walk away from that messy table.
In January, it’ll be au revoir, adios and auf wiedersehen pet. What a shame. Soon the food fights with the EU will be finished. Or will they?
Because only this week, the FT reported that Brexit could backfire big time on the great British banger. Sausages you see – as well as pies and minced beef – fall foul of rules requiring prepared-meat products imported into the EU be frozen. And Britain will be outside, not inside, the fence.
Plus vegan sausages and burgers might have to change their names to ‘vegan tubes’ or ‘veggie discs’ to help protect their meat versions within the EU.
The British farmer would be outside these rules, of course. But if they want to sell their products into their biggest market, the EU? They’d have to abide by them.
And this, in a way, gets to the root of the whole ‘in or out’ Brexit debate. Britain will no longer have a seat at that table, so we won’t get to have any fun in these perennial food fights.
We'll just get hit in the face with an occasional custard pie.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.