Essay Eating Irish

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Frustrated at the lack of progress, he turned to writing.

In his most famous piece of satire, “A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick,” Swift called attention to the plight of the Irish by proposing an outlandish plan to help Ireland’s poor.

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When Voltaire made his often-quoted statement that the country of Britain has “a hundred religions and only one sauce”, he was saying something which was untrue and which is equally untrue today, but which might still be echoed in good faith by a foreign visitor who made only a brief stay and drew his impressions from hotels and restaurants.

For the first thing to be noticed about British cookery is that it is best studied in private houses, and more particularly in the homes of the middle-class and working-class masses who have not become Europeanised in their tastes. We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank you for your visiting. The country had been under England’s rule for almost 500 years, and economic and social conditions were deteriorating as a direct result of their rule.At normal time it is not unusual to eat grilled beef steaks or mutton chops at breakfast, and there are still old-fashioned people who like to start the day with cold roast beef.In some parts of the country, for instance in East Anglia, it is usual to eat cheese at breakfast.In “Infant’s flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.” By drawing attention to the large Roman Catholic population, Swift meant obviously parody the anti-Catholic sentiment that was rampant in England at the time.He closed his argument by challenging politicians, saying: “I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever.” Despite its shocking premise, the pamphlet did little to shock the public when it was first released.In talking of British cookery, therefore, one is talking of the past or the future – of dishes that the British people now see somewhat rarely, but which they would gladly eat if they had the chance, and which they did eat fairly frequently up to 1939. Ideally for nearly all British people, and in practice for most of them even now, this is not a snack but a serious meal.The hour at which people have their breakfast is of course governed by the time at which they go to work, but if they were free to choose, most people would like to have breakfast at nine o’clock.It was largely ignored by critics, and those who did read it recognized the absurdity of its argument and did not take it as a serious proposal.Of course, Swift most likely never meant for it to be taken seriously by anyone.


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