- The Queen served lamb to President Donald Trump during a banquet on Monday to mark his state visit to the UK.
- Lamb is not as popular in the US, where it makes up less than 1% of red-meat production, as it is in Britain.
- The meat has previously strained US-UK relations. Most recently, in 2014, the US ambassador in London complained in an interview that British people were constantly giving him lamb to eat.
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The centrepiece of the lavish banquet thrown by Queen Elizabeth II on Monday in honour of President Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK was something Americans rarely eat: lamb.
As well as likely being a novelty for her American guests, the meat has a remarkable history in US-UK relations, prompting grumbles from US service members as long ago as World War II and more recent complaints from a US ambassador.
The banquet menu listed the main course as “Selle d’Agneau deWindsor Farcie Marigny,” Saddle of Windsor Farcie Marigny lamb.
Lamb is a mainstay of British cuisine and central to the rural British economy, but it never really caught on across the Atlantic.
In the US, the average person eats less than a pound of lamb a year, an executive from the American Lamb Board told The New York Times in 2017, compared with about 50 pounds of pork and 57 pounds of beef.
Britain’s fervent love of – and the US’s indifference to – lamb was best highlighted by the Obama-era US ambassador in London, Matthew Barzun.
In 2014, Barzun told the British high-society magazine Tatler that he was sick of constantly being served lamb at the fancy dinners he frequented.
“I must have had lamb and potatoes 180 times since I have been here,” he said. “There are limits, and I have reached them.”
The reaction was seismic, prompting a round of criticism in the UK media. He later apologised on BBC radio.
At the time, Rowley Leigh, the chef at Le Cafe Anglais, an award-winning London restaurant, told The Independent: “Americans don’t really get lamb. They’d rather have beef, or beef, or possibly beef.”
It’s true – sales of lamb in the US are dwarfed by beef and pork. Lamb production made up less than 1% of total red-meat production from January to April, according to US Department of Agriculture figures.
There are several likely reasons the US is more averse to lamb.
As one theory goes, while awaiting deployment to mainland Europe during World War II, US troops were fed mutton – meat from older sheep – and told it was lamb.
When they returned home in 1945, the story goes, they refused to touch lamb meat ever again.
Another theory is that farmers consider sheep too docile, making them ill-suited to sprawling American ranches where they can be easily eaten by wildlife.
A third theory is that lamb has never been marketed as well in the US, suffering from the absence of major campaigns like the 1980s drive to increase pork consumption.
In 2016, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs submitted a 1,000-page dossier to the USDA in support of the US’s importing lamb, but it did not make much progress.
Defra estimated that lamb exports to the US could be worth £35 million a year to British farmers.
After British farmers picked up that Trump had eaten lamb on Monday, the chief of the National Sheep Association, Phil Stocker, told the trade magazine The Scottish Farmer:
“We have long said the US would be a great market to tap into given the right opportunity and this could be just the chance we need to drive this forward.
“Assuming President Trump enjoyed his dining experience, we can only hope it gets him thinking and will help drive forward a strengthened market in the US.
“NSA would like to thank Her Majesty and all at Buckingham Palace for supporting the UK sheep sector and for endorsing British lamb in this way.”
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