The Full Sumerian: A (global) history of English food

Many fools would have you believe that the "full English" breakfast was invented in England. But nothing could be further from the truth.

OPINION KNOX

Kelvin Knox

1/13/2022 5 min read

‘A ‘patriotic breakfast’?
Sausages were invented by Sumerians circa 3000BC; all beans used in baked beans are native to South America; pork was first salted in ancient China & hens were first domesticated in ancient Egypt. ‘Patriotic’
What an awful joke Brexit is making of the UK.’

James O’Brien, 2nd March, 2020

 A hot breeze hit the face of young Urash as he lifted his bronze cleaver to the sky. The sun twinkled on the edge of the blade before Urash’s wiry arm swooped down onto the fat neck of the pig laid out before him. A sharp, desperate squeal pierced the air of the farmstead, then tailed off. Urash and his pregnant wife then cradled the pig in half-reverence, and hung the beast from its hind legs, careful to direct the torrent of blood into the clay pot below. In this harsh environment, one wasted drop of blood could be the difference between life and death!

A while later, while gutting the pig, Urash picked up a piece of its intestines and inspected it. A flash of inspiration hit him. As his wife kneaded dough on the floor for a succulent luncheon of flatbread and pulses, Urash dashed past her and went to the table of their mud brick villa. After hours of experimentation, Urash had managed to squeeze half a pound of finely diced pig meat and herbs into the pig’s intestine. It was by no means perfect, but he had invented the humble sausage.

The next day, Urash hurried to the market square with his new invention stuffed in a wicker basket.

‘Make way! Make way!’ he screamed at the throng as he made his way to the butcher’s hut. ‘I have in my hands a succulent breakfast solution which compliments eggs, bacon, and fried bread!’

The people of the bustling market square parted and gasped at Urash’s long, thick rope of meat. This was just what they needed for breakfast, they thought. Maybe with a dash of vinegar mixed with molasses (good old brown sauce to you and me!)

In the butcher’s hut, the wizened old proprietor inspected the sausage as if it was a piece of silver. He pinched it, prodded it, and held it up to the light. After a long sniff he looked Urash dead in the eyes. His stern face cracked a smile. Urash nodded back with a self-assured grin. They both knew, there and then, they were going to be millionaires.

These events took place roughly five thousand years ago in one of the first city states to emerge on planet Earth, that of the Sumerian settlement of Uruk (in what is now modern-day Iraq.) Thanks to young Urash’s enterprising zeal to innovate food production in his squalid little community, people around the globe now enjoy steaming hot tubes of porcine delight. Whether it’s corpulent Americans enjoying a hot dog and a weak lager at the baseball, ruddy faced Bavarians munching on bratwurst while adjusting the musky button-up crotch to their lederhosen, or beautiful Spanish senoritas slicing off a tender piece of chorizo outside a continental café in Barcelona, everyone agrees, sausages are ace!

We have established, then, that sausages are a global phenomenon with a history stretching back to the dawn of civilisation. So why the HELL do us arrogant Brits insist on pretending it is somehow part of our national culinary heritage? In the name of Yotam Ottolenghi, get an effing grip!

But it’s not just the humble banger, is it? We also arrogantly claim the grilled tomato (Mayan), the hashed brown (Olmec), cured back bacon (those pesky Sumerians again!), and the mushroom (Carthage) as our own. You name an invention, culinary or otherwise, and I will show you a mediaeval or ancient predecessor.

Christ, not even the fish supper is British, being, as it was, an invention of Jewish émigrés fleeing the pogroms of Tsarist Russia.

But if you tell anyone this (and believe me, I have!), all you will get is bull headed hostility. Only the other day, my good friend Vangelis and I, sat down for a fried meal at Big Bill’s Sausage Shack, one of the few greasy spoons left in North London. On the menu board we saw the words “Bill’s Full English Toilet Buster: £8.50”. Vangelis could see the consternation on my face.

‘Come on great mate, let’s hit the road. I think there’s a Brewer’s Fayre five minutes’ walk from here. Last one there is a big fat fanny!’

He can be extremely vulgar. To a fault. But that man has my back, let me tell you. When I got into an argument with Nick Knowles over a parking space outside a Dunelm Mill, Vangelis came steaming in with his Hyundai i30 keys clenched in his fist and rearranged the DIY SOS prick’s face.

But I digress. I made my order with no comment and sat down on my orange plastic throne, ready for my succulent breakfast meal. However, as the waitress brought my ‘toilet buster’ over, I just couldn’t help myself. I could see Vangelis’s face drop, but I didn’t care. I had to educate her.

‘Here’s your full English toilet busters. Who has the one with no black pud…’

‘Sorry, the what?’ I said.

‘Your full English…’

‘Yes, that’s what I thought you said. A full ‘English’, is it? Is that what you would say this array of fatty protein treats is collectively called?’

‘Eh…what?’

Then came my lengthy explanation of how wrong exactly she was. And each time her eyes glazed I made sure she damn well listened with some pointed finger jabbing. How on earth had she never heard of the ancient city state of Uruk? Or the Akkadian Empire? Had she never read The Epic of Gilgamesh? I was furious. Utterly incandescent with rage. Vangelis, abandoning his early embarrassment joined me in my state of consternation.

‘What the HELL do they teach you at school? You people. You young people. No wonder you can’t buy a house if you don’t even know…why am I bothering? Why am I BOTHERING?’

With that, I picked up the dirty oval plate and hurled it against the wall, sending a signed photo of Nigel Mansell crashing to the floor. A troglodyte trucker on the next table decided to involve himself, but I sent him packing with a judo chop to the jugular. Unfortunately, as I went to run out of the greasy spoon, I slipped on a fried egg from my discarded breakfast and fell flat on my back. As Vangelis ran through the door, he barricaded it behind him and ran to his Hyundai i30 and sped off. I was not angry, though. Far from it. I would have done the same. In fact, I have done the same to him outside the toilets of the M1 Toddington services (south bound (Vangelis objected to a patron’s incorrect use of the Dyson AirBlade)). The world is a cruel and dangerous place, and we are alpha males, after all. And as the kicks and punches rained down on my supine body, and a waterfall of scolding hot tea hit my face, I knew I had hit a nerve.

You see, people don’t want to be told they are wrong. And that is why I hate 99.9% of the vermin we call the human race. This is why Brexit happened. This is why Richard Osmond’s House of Games languishes on BBC2 at teatime, rather than the Saturday night prime time slot is so desperately deserves.

This column, for me, is a call to arms. If you read this, I want you to march down to your local breakfast tearoom and tell them that you’re mad as hell, and that you will no longer bow to their jingoistic breakfast tyranny. You must demand a Full Global, and if you have the time, itemise the origins of each individual ingredient you desire on your plate.

Change only comes when good people act. So step the heck up!

Kelvin Knox | kelvinknox@bazake.co.uk | twitter: @2012studies