The sausage is one of the first ever convenience foods with the etymology of its name being derived from the Latin salsus - or salted. The German word 'wurst' is derived from the Latin vertere, to turn, to roll, indicating the shape of the item.
The Romans are the first credited with its production in Europe and noted by the premier Gourmand of the time, Apicius, in 1AD as being pounded meat with herbs, spices, fat and pine kernals being drawn out thinly in a pig's intestine, then hung up to smoke. The Chinese are said to have been eating them a lot longer than the Europeans, while the French claim the 'wet sausage' as their own creation.
Have you been lured unsuspectingly into hardware stores on the weekend? Many Australians have, and it's not necessarily by the promise of fabulous DIY projects at great prices, but thanks to our olfactory senses.
It's the whiff of a sausage on a storefront BBQ manned by zealous charity fundraisers. It's our 'Sausage Sizzle' nostalgia that the smell summonses - of smoke in the eyes, greasy cheap slightly burnt sausages, a slice of nasty commercial white bread, butter and lashings of tomato sauce.
OK, if you're not a local this probably sounds hideous of course, but what omnivorous Aussie can resist it? And when the proceeds go to charity, it seems pointless to resist. This meaty affliction lurks deep in the Aussie psyche, coiled in the corner that reminisces about hanging out with Dad or going to BBQ's as kids and running wild fueled by excitement and too much raspberry cordial. It's a memory locked in there along with 'Hundreds and Thousands' sandwiches, ready to bring us weak kneed into the hardware store car park.
But hard on the heels of being told that Australia is debatedly the fattest nation in the developed world, the iconic sausage sanga has now been analysed by the Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health (AWASH). There's no prizes for guessing that the subject of our adoration is actually not good for us. After all the name is derived from 'salted' - no?
AWASH is launching a strategy of working with the food industry to reduce salt in foods by 25% over five years, requiring a high level of commitment from the food industry and the development of individual company action plans. AWASH is also inviting views on proposals for developing targets for salt levels for specific products and focusing on processed meats, bread and the fast food sector.
But back to the sausage sanga. Here are the results:
Only 2% of sausages in Australian supermarkets meet acceptable salt levels.
Australian Division of World Action on Salt and Health revealed that one single sausage sandwich at your local barbecue could contain as much as 6 grams of salt; 100% of the maximum daily recommended amount for adults and almost double that recommended for children.
The product overview shows that other products commonly eaten at barbecues, such as hamburger patties, tomato sauce and some white breads, are also high in salt. It shows huge variations in the salt content of different brands of similar products, with some sausages containing over three times as much salt as others.
Now you see it doesn't stop at the snag, it includes the bread Aussies typically love, in addition to the commercial Ketchup and BBQ sauces which also contain far too much sugar.
It's said that the average Aussie is currently consuming 9grams of salt a day, with acceptable levels being a much lower 6grams - or a single sausage sanga as your one meal of the day. Much of the mainstream Aussie salt intake is coming from packaged convenience foods and although some multinational food companies now have salt reduced products, I don't believe that they are a particularly popular choice in the main.
I wasn't surprised when I read that AWASH has stated in their press release “The food industry in Australia is committed to further action to reduce salt in foods. The Government now needs to make salt a national health priority and lead negotiations on maximum salt targets for different products. Only then will Australians have a chance of reducing their daily salt intake to recommended levels.”
Everyone leaps on the 'government needs to do something' bandwagon after all. It reminded me of 'Fat Chance' the first episode of The Hollowmen by Working Dog Productions, where bureaucrats use the issue of obesity to generate the kind of hype that lobby groups love, but are consequently easily manipulated into helping to temporarily drive up government popularity polls.
On Wednesday night in Australia you have a chance to see how The Naked chef Jamie Oliver is tackling healthy eating with his show 'Jamie Oliver's Eat to Save Your Life'. The show was intended to shock the living daylights out of British couch potatoes and now their colonial cousins get prodded in order pierce their junk food overloaded reverie.
"Yeah. Triffic darlin'. Right you are then - stop wrapping yer chops aroun' the sav sarnies and Bob's yer uncle. Orright?".
For me, the bare bones of this issue is that although the intention is good and it is honourable to draw attention to the impact on one's health, it is our problem - not the government's - to eat sensibly and to teach others. We seem to be living in a time of blame. The national mentality is not to look at where we ourselves are going wrong, but to look for scapegoats like advertising, TV shows and governments.
If we have no idea, then we must look to others for guidance to read and learn how to eat better, so that at the very least we do the best we can by our families. And that does not include eating packaged processed food and frequenting Quick Service Restaurants for fast food, whether the labelling says 'salt reduced' or not.
I know it's the horse I generally ride in on, but when our household returned to eating SOLE foods, I discovered that we have less need for flavour enhancers beyond fresh herbs and spices. Salt doesn't play a big part in our diet. Neither does refined cane sugar. It's not hard to make the change to more of a Slow Food ethic and slow grown produce equals more filling and sustaining meals with smaller portions, so it also makes economic sense. At the end of the day I have proof that we are healthier for it too.
Sorry AWASH, for all your scare mongering, I will still on the rare occasion be lured into a Hardware store car park with the promise of a filthy sausage sanga that will comfort me temporarily before spending money on gadgets that I don't need. But I will do it in the knowledge that my diet is good, my heart is healthy and my blood pressure is normal. After all, it's about having a balanced approach to life, isn't it?
(Oh and mind out for the Prick with a fork!)