Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, December 10 2008


alternative-breakfastWith pork off the menu, can one Irishman survive without his traditional breakfast? asks Eoin Butler .

AS THE FALLOUT from the weekend recall of Irish pork continues to be felt across a range of sectors, there is one area in which its implications are already quite clear. The traditional Irish breakfast, for the time being at least, is off the menu.

For generations, breakfast has been a meal that nourished the Irish soul. In times past, an Irishman might have awoken to find his potatoes blighted, his religion proscribed or his children exiled. But put a plate of rashers, sausages and black pudding down in front of him and suddenly things didn’t look so bad.

In this time of economic recession, our traditional breakfast has once again become a valuable source of comfort. But, as of Saturday, even the most unreconstructed among us (this writer being one) have been forced to make alternative arrangements.

Nourish is a chain of independently owned Irish health shops. I drop by one of their branches in Dublin city centre, seeking suggestions for a healthy, organic and dioxin-free alternative to the traditional fry-up. The night before the experiment, I also take the liberty of consuming three cans of lager before I go to bed, just to make things a little bit more interesting.

Rising early next morning, I put on the pan. First to go on are the Sage Marjoram Sausages (“delicious, ready to eat meat-free sausages seasoned with herbs”). Next are added the dubiously-monikered BioRashers (“an organic blend of wheat, sunflower oil and soya”).

Scrambled eggs, of course, aren’t affected by the recall. But I figure in for a penny, in for a pound. As a healthy alternative, the sales assistant has suggested tofu, mixed with onions and peppers, and fried with turmeric.

How can I describe the gastronomic odyssey that ensues? Well, let’s start with the “sausages”. Their consistency reminds me a lot of Play-Doh. Flavour-wise they’re trickier to pin down – save to remark that I’m pretty sure I once spent a fortnight in Marjoram on a package holiday. Overall, the sausages are edible, but nothing special – the sort of thing that, were I held captive in a prisoner-of-war camp for a few years, I could easily see myself developing a tolerance for.

It’s somewhat more difficult to say anything nice about the rashers. To be fair, I’ve had a bad feeling about these from the outset. (Something about the way the sales assistant wouldn’t let go of the packet when I first attempted to purchase them probably should have set some alarm bells ringing.) I’m tempted to say that they’d make suitable shoe insoles for someone with very small feet. But then I notice that they crumble to pieces if you so much as sneeze on them. Let’s just say that these so-called “rashers” are the best argument I’ve yet come across for high cholesterol.

Finally, to the “scrambled egg” portion of this breakfast. Like “recession”, “tofu” is one of those words that’s been in my vocabulary for years, without my ever really knowing what it meant. Now that I’ve actually got some of it in my hands, I suppose the closest comparison would be to damp Styrofoam (only, perhaps, minus the flavour.) As per my instructions, I mix it up with onions, peppers and turmeric. I fry it up and then spend the next 20 minutes slowly disentangling it all again and eating the vegetables.

The remaining spludge I’m tempted to leave on a plate outside to test the theory that it takes 1,000 years to break down.

The sad truth, it seems, is that there really is no healthy alternative to the traditional Irish breakfast. We’re told that pork will be back on the shelves within a matter of days. But until then let me make the following suggestion: Parma ham and beans on toast. It’s not as good as the real thing. But then again, what is?

Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

[Postscript 1: The headline, I think, is a reference to the John Lennon poster barely visible behind me.]

[Postscript 2: The bit about the rashers making good shoe insoles for someone with very small feet was quoted on What It Says in The Papers on Morning Ireland that day.]