Reversion to the mean

Austrian politics drift, farcically, to the right. Apparently there is a coalition proposed between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party, as the former neo-Nazis call themselves. This is the outfit that used to be run by Jörg Haider, against whose participation in government the EU announced sanctions; anyway, the party split, and he now has one of his own. The new party prefers to be described as “populist”, and as part of this they have proposed a tax policy which dserves to be more widely known. VAT on foodstuffs is to be halved, with the exception of twelve designated luxuries. Here are the foodstuffs which Austrian Fascists and socialists have united to agree are signs of wicked decadence:

  • Caviare
  • Langoustines
  • Pâté de foie gras
  • Lobster
  • Saffron
  • Truffles
  • Quail’s eggs (but not quails)
  • Snails
  • Oysters
  • Ostrich eggs
  • Crab
  • Prawns

Oh brave new world!

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13 Responses to Reversion to the mean

  1. jim says:

    Did they each name six?

  2. Prawns? What’s so upper-crusty about prawns? Prawns are as proletarian as they come.

  3. acb says:

    Well, I know. That’s one of the strange things about the list. But perhaps, if you’re a styrian peasant, prawns are strange and exotic. Hell, Austrian cheese qualifies as a decadent luxury in London.

  4. Mrs Tilton says:

    perhaps, if you’re a styrian peasant, prawns are strange and exotic.

    Got it in one. Wos dr Bauer net kennt, as they say, frisst er net.

    That’s hardly a peculiarity of the Austrians. Things have changed somewhat in recent decades thanks to improved goods transport and increased income, but you will still find Germans in Bavaria and Swabia (the richest parts of the country) who simply don’t eat much fish and wouldn’t eat shell fish if you paid them. The fish they do eat are limited pretty much to farm-raised trout on Christmas Eve and the occasional pike-perch or Lake Constance whitefish for the adventurous (perhaps southern Germans once ate carp, as their Slavic neighbours to the east still do; but if so, they have given up the habit). And much the same applies in the American midwest, mutatis mutandis.

    As this leaves all the more fish and shell fish for me, I approve of their culinary timidity.

    There is a mildly disgusting American party dip made by mashing up into sour cream some cheap dried onion soup mix from Lipton’s. If you want to get fancy, though, you can use the much more expensive Knorr soup mix from Germany. This costs more because, being foreign and sophisticated, it’s so much better than Lipton’s. Here in Germany, Knorr is as far from a luxury brand as can be imagined — it’s a low-cost, low-status basic food stuff for the masses. But people who deserve better than that just might be able to find sachets of Lipton’s soup mix in the speciality aisles of snottier upscale supermarkets. Lipton’s costs more, you see, because being foreign and sophisticated, it’s so much better than Knorr.

  5. Rupert says:

    But then again, who would have predicted the rampaging success of raw fish as a succulent treat in the mouths of Americans and Brits? I know it’s still class-delineated, but even so…

    The power of the exotic does wane over time, though, as one might expect. Remember when Stella Artois was ‘reassuringly expensive?’ At the same time, it was a throwing lager of the humblest mien in its home – and it now rejoices in the epithet of wifebeater here.

    You can still find Watney’s Red Barrel in twee little nests in San Francisco’s premium beer outlets, and there was a time when Harp lager was the hypermodern lads quaffage that “stayed sharp to the bottom of the glass” in the UK but was sold as a guaranteed purveyor of traditional values in the Irish Republic.

    I’m still on a mission, inspired by Andrew, to bring the sublime soft-shell crab to as many people as possible. Before it gets banned by the arbiters of entarten lebensmittel.

  6. Mrs Tilton, what do the Bavarians and Swabians eat on Fridays, given that they’re Catholic?

  7. Mrs Tilton says:

    Fragano, first off, it’s an oversimplification to say that “Bavarians and Swabians are catholic”.

    Making allowance for conversions, geographical mobility in the modern age etc., Germans tend strongly to belong to the confession espoused by the former ruler of their region before Germany was unified (the famed “cuius regio” principle used to end the 30 Years’ War). NB, when in this comment I say that and things like it, I am deliberately ignoring the significant minority of the German populace with roots in historically non-Christian places, but am counting the very large number — probably a majority — of Germans that is de facto or de jure unchurched but whose ancestors would have belonged to the one or the other Christian community.) What are now the two southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg (Swabia is not a political entity — to simplify slightly, it consists of the Württemberg part of B-W, plus a strip along the western fringe of Bavaria) looked very different back then.

    The current B-W was an absolute patchwork quilt of statelets, exactly the sort of place Twain had in mind when he said that, in Germany, one needed a passport to sleep with legs outstretched. You could easily switch from popery to heresy and back again, several times, in the course of day’s journey by train. At a guess, I’d say B-W is (very roughly) half RC, half protestant, with great local variation in the relative distribution of the two sects.

    The current Bavaria has a great big chunk in its southern/eastern part, Altbayern as people sometimes all it, that was a unified kingdom and remains heavily RC. But the northern/western bits, i.e., Bavarian Swabia and Franconia — parts of which became Bavarian only in 1803 at Napoloeon’s behest or even later, sometimes well into the 20th c. — were historically part of that patchwork quilt, and are far more mixed religiously (and include areas that are, or at least historically were, staunchly protestant). The current prime minister of Bavaria — Beckstein, a Franconian — is a devout protestant (the latter quality is not rare in Nuremberg; the former is increasingly rare anywhere in the country).

    But, anyway, yes, pedantry aside, historically you’d have seen a good solid wodge of RCs in Swabia, and many, many RCs in Bavaria. So what did they (and, while we’re at it, the Austrians) eat of a Friday?

    Well, sometimes it was fish. There were trout, and for those near Lake Constance, whitefish. Carp might have been eaten in those days, though it’s usually avoided now. A speciality of the town where I used to live (Franconian, but historically extremely RC, as it was owned by a prince-bishop) is Meefischli, tiny fish (the length of your pinky and half as thick) that are netted up in masses, battered and fried, and eaten whole. (But then they are essentially indistinguishable from chips, and indeed, many jokingly call them Pommfrites mit Augen). There are those down south who like fish but, on the whole, most don’t (or at least in the old days didn’t), and fish was not really a staple there.

    The very popular alternative to fish for meatless days was Süßspeisen, literally “sweet dishes”. These are cakes, pancakes, puddings and the like, baked or steamed or fried and usually served with custard or yummy sauces. Dampfnudeln, Topfnudeln, Nonnenfürzle, Pfitzauf, Kaiserschmarrn, various Strudels, Palatschinken, Germknödel usw. — they’re not just for dessert.

    BTW, another way that catholic Swabians dealt with meatless Fridays was to, emm, eat meat. They did (and still do) this in the form of Maultaschen, lit. “mouth pockets”, a sort of ravioli made with minced meat, (usually) spinach and various spices. The meat’s not visible as such, so the old slang term for them was Herrgottsbscheisserle — little God-cheaters. For reasons I can’t fathom, protestants in Swabia observed the lenten abstinence from meat, too, though only on Maundy Thursday. And Maultaschen were a popular meal for them as well on that day….

    SFAIK catholics are no longer forbidden meat on Fridays. (Is their God growing slack in his old age?) Ironically, in southern Germany they’re perhaps now more likely to eat fish on that day than they were in the past — as I noted upthread, thanks to increased prosperity, improved transport and (not least) greater geographical mobility, one can (at least in cities and larger towns) now find a decent variety of fresh, high-quality fish and shellfish in southern Germany, and more people willing to eat it. And people sometimes still do eat Süßspeisen on Fridays, more from tradition than anything else, I suspect; certainly the kids don’t complain.

  8. Mrs Tilton: Thanks for that detailed and interesting reply. Fair enough, it’s oversimplified to say that Bavarians and Swabians are Catholic. But, leaving aside Protestant immigrants from the north, Turks, Arabs and others, most are. While Catholics aren’t forbidden meat on Fridays any more, most cradle Catholics that I know will tend to eat fish on Fridays.

    Why do they avoid carp now?

  9. Bengt O. says:

    Well, VAT on food stuff will not be halved because Jörg Haider chickened out in the last minute on the pretext that Brussels would never approve of such a move. He may even have been right.

    At any rate, that means that the relative prices of luxury goods and and other foodstuff will not change which is good news for producers of quail’s eggs who might otherwise have seen their customers switch to Frankfurter sausages.

  10. Mrs Tilton says:


    but “most” aren’t catholic, at least WRT Swabians. Historically they really were roughly half/half, but with enormous local variation (i.e., lots of small territories, in each of which the relation was more like 90/10 in one direction or the other, but adding up to roughly equal numbers in the aggregate).

    Illustrative anecdote: the Swabian part of my family is from what was once a small village outside a mid-sized town, though the town gloried in the title of Imperial Free City. The surrounding villages are now part of the town. My relatives’ (former) village was historically protestant. The next (former) village, a kilometre or two down the road, was historically RC. The town, or “Imperial Free City”, itself was historically protestant, and the next town of any size historically RC. This is the pattern over wide swathes of B-W and especially the Swabian part of it. You can mark historical religious allegiances there pretty much instantly, at least in small towns and villages, by noting which confession has an old church building and which has a 1970s atrocity that looks like a starship.

    You’re right that “most Bavarians are catholic”, but only for certain values of “Bavarian”. That is true of Altbayern (Oberbayern, Niederbayern, and the Upper Palatinate), which is solidly catholic and where most of the exceptions will indeed be zugroasta (blow-ins) from the north, Turks etc. (There aren’t that many Arabs in Germany; a few, sure, in the biggest cities, but the German Muslim population is overwhelmingly Turkish, and many of the “Arabs” are Moroccans who do not identify as Arab.) For the rest of Bavaria, though, it simply isn’t true. Those bits are a patchwork of historically RC and protestant areas, and the protestants would be amused to learn they are immigrants from the north, given that many of them have been resident in the area since long before the New World was settled by Europeans.

    No idea why carp isn’t eaten very much. Perhaps it’s just not a very good sort of fish. Never eaten one myself, but I believe they are full of tiny bones. If you want a fish and can get a sole or salmon or St.-Pierre freshly flown in, why bother with a carp?

  11. Mrs Tilton: Thanks for the clarification, and the detail. My Swabian friends have all been Catholics, as have been all the Bavarians I’ve known. My German ex-wife was from the Rheinland Pfalz, btw.

    Carp, btw, is the fish in gefilte fish. I suppose it might be counted an inferior good, which would be replaced by better goods when they become available.

  12. Mrs Tilton says:

    R-Pf is pretty catholic too, I think; at least the R part of it and possibly the Pf as well.

    Didn’t know that about gefilte fish; for some reason I had thought pike, possibly confusing gefilte fish with quenelles. Makes sense, though. Peolple still eat a lot of carp in central/eastern Europe, and most of what we think of as “Jewish cuisine” is just CEE cooking minus the pork, plus some clever adjustments (e.g., chicken fat — shmalts — in place of butter in cooking meat dishes) to comply with the meat/dairy separation thing.

  13. Bengt O. says:

    Very interesting reading – despite being only “Zuagraster”, Mrs Tilton’s “Kaiserschmarrn” and “Palatschinken” are old favorites of mine. (Do you also get “Zwetschkenröster” with the former?) However: In the marshes of the river March, which is a tributary to the Danube and forms the border between The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria you can still if you are lucky see the “Emis orbicularis” or the European Pond Turtle. It is of course a threatend species and one of the reasons why it is threatened is that until quite recently it was a very popular food during Lent. Apparently it could be found everywhere in the markets during that holy time.

    There were many enjoyable ways of avoiding eating meat on Fridays. Recommended reading: Brillat-Savarin’s “L’omelette du Curé” (“The Vicar’s omelette”).

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