Thursday, January 26, 2006


I enjoyed the haggis I had on my Burns Night. Attacking a central part of the Scottish heritage is certainly not wise. The Scots are very proud of their heritage

Scotland's national dish, haggis, has become the latest foodstuff to be targeted as part of a drive to combat growing levels of obesity among British children, prompting outrage among producers. According to health officials in Scotland, the delicacy -- a sheep's stomach lining stuffed with offal, oatmeal, onions and seasoning -- contains too much fat and salt and should only be given to youngsters once a week.

But the guidance has angered makers of the "love it or hate it" foodstuff, which is traditionally eaten with a tot of whisky on Burn's Night, the annual January 25 celebration of the life of the legendary Scots poet Robert Burns. "With good neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), there's nothing more nutritious than haggis," said Alan Pirie, of butchers James Pirie and Son, the current holders of the sought-after title "Scottish Haggis Master". "It's made of all natural ingredients -- there's no rubbish in it at all. To compare it with processed meat like chicken nuggets or hot dogs is just ridiculous. It's a big knock for us for it to be compared to those."

Haggis was placed on a "restricted" list of foods issued to nurseries, playgroups and childminders as part of a drive by the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh to improve the health of pre-school children under five. The numbers of obese children in Scotland is twice the British average; 20 percent of three-and-a-half-year-olds were overweight, 8.6 percent obese and four percent severely obese in the 2004-05 school year, official statistics show. Mortality rates among adults, particularly in the densely populated "Central Belt" between Glasgow, in the west, and Edinburgh, in the east, are also among the highest in Europe, mainly through alcohol, smoking and a high-fat diet.

The Scottish Executive, which has made a number of moves to improve the nation's health, including an imminent ban on smoking in public places, insisted haggis was not being outlawed but should be eaten in moderation. "The nutritional guidelines are intended to give advice on how to provide a balanced diet over a week," said a spokeswoman. Preventing an obesity epidemic in Britain has been the subject of a number of government initiatives in recent years, including improving school dinners in England and Wales with the help of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.



When I was a little girl, and all my friends were little girls, none of us thought we'd grow up to be housewives. We might have played dollies in pretend houses and made pretend cakes and poured invisible tea from plastic pots, but no one ever considered that being a housewife, a home-maker, would be something that we would choose to be. For many years, that was not even an option. But now, at 40, I wonder why not?

My mother stayed at home. She baked cakes - terrible ones - and dusted and cleaned and darned names on knickers and obviously hated it. She would tell me how dull she thought stay-at-home mothers were. She would tell me how she'd wanted to be an artist, but that her father, my grandfather, wouldn't let her.gcause nice girls did not go to art school. She worked for a while as a physiotherapist and then, after she married my father, stopped working altogether, as so many women did.

But, during my childhood, my mother provided me with a steady stream of literature by women such as Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan. Kate Millett. Simone de Beauvoir and Susie Orbach. My mother was intent that we were educated properly. She took us overseas and showed us art, history and architecture. She helped me learn the joy of having an inquiring mind, of not just accepting everything I was told. She congratulated me when I confronted my teachers, even though she was hauled in to see the principal of my school regularly.

So did my mother expect me and my sister to stay at home, have children and turn into housewives? No, she did not. And yet, what has happened to us? In Susan Faludi's 1993 book Backlash, she predicted the tide would turn, that feminism would start becoming a dirty word, that men would march against women and that women would return, mentally beaten and bereaved. back to the home.

Now we have Darla Shine, who says in her book Happy Housewives that women should be allowed to embrace the mother, the housewife within and should no longer feel they have to go to work and break through the glass ceiling to be a proper, functioning person. "Why wasn't being a mum offered to me as a career?" Shine says.

What has changed? Staying at home - or even saying you want to stay at home -is breaking the last taboo. When, aged 29, I had my first child, all my friends thought I was mad. They thought I was even crazier when I moved out of city life and re-emerged in the bush complete with boots, basket, fresh fruit from the garden and an apron. They baulked when I got a dog. They nearly cried when I went on to have two more children and spent all my earnings on small shoes and baby outfits.

But now I know my friends love to come to see me. They love the atmosphere of the house, the freshly-cooked food, the salad picked from the garden, the grubby, muddy tearaway children and the over-friendly dog.

And yet I still work. I ask myself why: is it too much part of my past, part of what my mother instilled in me, for me to totally embrace my domestic goddess within?

But I am not the only woman who secretly likes baking an apple pie. Many seem to have quietly turned away from work. Everyone is "down-sizing" and searching for "quality of life". Why have it all when you only want a little bit? I think part of the problem is that women never really thought about what "work" meant. It's no fun being a woman holding down a full time job and also trying to run a house, children and a marriage. Where's the joy in trudging to and from work, to home, to the shops, and back again on a daily basis? (I am sure men feel just the same way, but we are talking housewives here, not house-husbands).

It's exhausting. I tried it. It was a disaster. I barely saw my children. I had no idea what they were up to. The cupboard was bare, the house was cold and unloved. I felt more tired than I ever have been. I resorted to checking my eldest son's homework when he was in bed. I made packed lunches at llpm. I barely spoke to my partner. At work, I sneakily called plumbers and electricians. Yet I seemed to achieve nothing, either at work or at home.

When I recently suggested to a friend that I give up work and stay at home with my children full-time, she gasped in horror: "But work is so much a part of who you are!" But work used to be part of who she was. Now she has two children, a husband who works from home, a serious tennis addiction and the best-baked cakes. Doesn't she miss her working life? She says not. When I press her on it, she says that she had always told herself that, if she had children, it would be her job to look after them. "I feel I owe that to them," she says. Her children, it has to be said, are happy.

And now I'm surrounded by these stay-at-home women - my sister, my sisters-in-law, my friends; none of them work. Elizabeth used to be a doctor, but now stays at home with her three girls. Emma was in films as a producer, but now spends her life videoing her twins, and Kate was a lawyer in Hong Kong, but was paid off. She's used her money to buy a run-down pile and, whenever you go round, there she is, paintbrush in hand, surrounded by children having fun renovating the place. They all seem happy. They all seem fulfilled. They are intelligent women and these are their choices.

Something has shifted. I find myself increasingly drawn to making cakes and staring wistfully at ingredients in the fridge. My friend calls up to tell me of a new lentil recipe her kids like. The correct feminist response would be: "Why are you calling me up with cooking tips? Burn your bra, baby! "Instead, I hurry to the shop to prepare for cooking it myself the next night. The truth is, I feel better when the house is clean and organised and the kids' clothes are folded and in their drawers. I LIKE to put a meal on the table for my partner when he comes home from work.

When I'm not working and the kids are at kindy, I go for a pushbike ride, walk the dog, or pop round for coffee at a friend's house. I find I rather like wearing an apron. I have a "baking" cupboard, although I am still not very good on cakes. But the kids like making them, so some afternoons we get floury and pour everything into a mixing bowl and then eat it.

The children are happier. My partner is happier. The dog is happier and I am happier. If I'm feeling particularly daring, I might even open a bottle of wine at lunchtime and invite people round. And who decreed we should all work so hard that we forget how to enjoy life? I think women are redefining things. Working hard, being successful and beating men at their own game now seems tiring and boring and, at the end of the day, not necessarily fulfilling.

It's much more fun to have freedom to be at home, to play with the kids, to walk a dog, to make my own decisions about my life. Being a housewife is no longer the dead-end job it was, and it's also not for ever. As their children get older, many women I know intend to start up some sort of small business. The internet has made this perfectly possible. Others intend to re-train as family therapists, teachers and such like. Some are doing extra-curricular courses in art, ceramics, philosophy.

If I had daughters, I'd give them the books to read that my mother gave me. I would encourage them to seethat they have choices, and that those choices are not between a man's world or a woman's world, or between going to work or staying at home, but the chance to do whatever it is they feel they want to do. And if it's a dishcloth that does it for them, hey, so be it.

An article by Lucy Cavendish from the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" of 22 Jan., 05

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