The Scottish Self-Identity

from which the Welsh food-identity may emerge


page 107 >>

One line of thought which has had only brief attention can be appraised at this final stage. If it has been put forward that Scotland has accepted a second-rate diet what relationship prevails between such a diet and the idea that “man is what he eats?”11 (Similar ideas have been proposed by Brillat-Savarin12; Frazer13; Wimberly14; and Dichter15). Feuerbach’s approach, however, was in terms of the political subjugation of the German population in the early nineteenth century – a time which is important to our own study. “A man who enjoys only a vegetable diet is only a vegetating being, is incapable of action”.16 The lack of fresh vegetables in the Scottish diet today and yesterday should not be allowed to detract from the point. While Cherno17 dismisses der mensch ist was er isst as“ a pun in an essay filled with subtle invective”, we cannot dismiss the fact that despite skirmishes with authority the upshot of events such as the Clearances was acceptance of the “absurdity of the status quo” which Cherno claimed Feuerbach was trying to get people elsewhere to accept. Those who did not accept the Clearances are the forbears of others who patriotically attend Burns Night Dinners in various parts of the world today. 


Accepting that Hampson18 suggests that this phrase “is a dictum which would flatter few of us as individuals” the Scottish socio-genesisa has always included a poverty diet during the period studied. The Feuerbachian assertion becomes ‘a nation is what it ate’ on the same sort of logic behind  “Human beings have an appetite for the sort of foods that symbolise the type of person they want to be”19. Although the study has identified ‘tartan food’ as symbolising the type of people the Scots want others to see them as being – perhaps manly and hospitable, it has been shown that it forms an insufficient diet on its own and ‘conventional foods’ obviously need to be eaten today. The ‘better’ foods which have not been included in the ‘tartan food’ category which are obviously acceptable to the tourist are not part of every Scot’s diet today for an important reason identified by Tannahill20. “… it is a sad comment upon a changing world that where, once they could not afford imported foods like rice and spices … now they cannot afford home-produced foods – the salmon, venison, lobster, kippers and Aberdeen Angus beef that are the pride of Scotland and the rest of the world.”


We have had a little history, a little politics, a soupçon of philosophy, but the economic issues seem to have ridden in tandem with social control on the rear seat.



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“I was gann to write a lang pystle, but Gude forgie me, I gat mysell saw noutouriously bitchify’d the day after dail-time that I can hardly stoiter but and ben.”


Here we have Burns and in “Only one surviving letter do we find him writing as he spoke.”21 The present study was going to be a long epistle and its writer will remain ‘notoriously bitchified’ for a long time on the abundance of material which was not consumed in this bite. However, it would be almost expected to end with Burns, albeit writing as he spoke. More appropriate is the affinity between the many passing clouds of ill-dieted men we have seen here and MacDiarmid’s22 ‘man himself’ ….



            “Man himself, aside from historic aggregations, is only

            The shadow of a passing cloud, his very existence hardly more than an illusion.

            His thought resembles the ray of a fountain; it rises, sparkles,

            Reaches a certain height and falls, and begins the process again.

            - Would it were even beginning again in Scotland today?”

Stepping back a pace from such notions as these, those who ".. have an appetite for the sort of foods that symbolise the type of person they want to be” are within its extension relating to any nation's diet.  One aspect of the project is to untangle the Welsh national diet from 'the British diet'.  There should be many interesting and useful offshoots from that activity. 


Your next step could be in the direction of the Community Project page to consider how you might be  involved.