The Real Reason The UK Is Arguing About Scotch Eggs

Scotch eggs, a food thing consisting of a boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat that is breaded before being fried, has become a sticking point in British news over the last week. The reason for this, as the BBC explained, is the new set of coronavirus restrictions implemented by the government. To mitigate the spread of the pandemic, the government has divided England into regions that fall under three types of tiers, each scaling its restrictions to meet the severity of the COVID outbreak. 

The important regulation for pubs and restaurants, though, is that in areas operating under Tier 2 rules, they can only open if they serve a "substantial meal" (via the BBC). Alcohol can be served with these meals. For restaurants, obviously, this is not much of an issue. With hard-hit pubs, however, the point becomes existential. People go to pubs to drink, but if a pub breaks regulation, they could face thousands of pounds in fines. 

Perhaps to address these fears, Environment Secretary George Eustice clarified the definition of a "substantial meal" somewhat: "I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service." (He didn't elaborate on the nutritional difference table service provides.) Michael Gove, Cabinet Office minister, disagreed. As The Washington Post recounted, he initially called Scotch eggs an appetizer. Later, he recanted twice, one time saying he didn't know and then declaring a Scotch egg to be a meal.

What the actual issue might be

Though reportage largely focuses on the eccentric question of whether a Scotch egg constitutes a meal, the more important issues may involve keeping pubs open for the "right kind" of people. Writing for The Conversation, Jed Meers, a Lecturer of Law at the University of York, argues that terms such as "substantial meals' and "table meals" are tied to a history which predates the pandemic, serving as a way to indicate the "class and caliber" of an establishment. Or, as Jay Rayner more bluntly puts it in The Guardian, "In effect, they said that if you were sufficiently bourgeois enough to want to eat something, you could get as [drunk] as you fancied. But if you were some [uncouth person] who merely wanted to go to the pub for a pint, you could forget about it." 

After all, what bearing does a food offering have on COVID? With over 70 percent of all British pubs in fear of closing permanently (via The Guardian), such arbitrary distinctions that may simply force people to buy Scotch eggs they won't eat so they could drink, speak to how out-of-touch the regulators are. Conversely, if people want Scotch eggs but can't have them without ordering food they want, pubs could follow the example set by Oakfired, a pizzeria located at The Royal Oak pub. As PMQ announced this month, Oakfired created one of the world's weirdest pizzas by topping it with pickles and Scotch eggs.