World News

Australians Declare Existential Crisis Over Onion Placement

Posted November 14, 2018 2:20 p.m. EST

MELBOURNE, Australia — “This will ruin Australia,” declared a television news anchor.

It “Threatens to Tear Nation Apart,” read a headline on a popular news site.

The furor spilled onto social media too on Wednesday, as citizens decried an “outrageous” recommendation that would upend decades of tradition, and which at its core was declared “BEYOND ridiculous.”

The existential threat? A hardware store’s suggestion that people put onions under a sausage instead of on top.

Bunnings Warehouse, a national chain of nearly 300 stores, may not have expected it, but the effort to dispense culinary advice as if it were home repair led to a countrywide meltdown.

The discussion got so fevered that Prime Minister Scott Morrison found himself fielding a reporter’s question on Wednesday about whether Bunnings’ guidance was “un-Australian.”

He delicately weighed into the fray.

“Whether the onions are on top or underneath, I’ll always be buying sausages on bread,” Morrison said.

For the uninitiated, a dash of context: Australian community groups often set up fundraiser barbecues outside Bunnings locations, at which they sell open-faced sausage sandwiches, typically composed of a sausage, fried onions and tomato sauce (known to Americans as ketchup) on a slice of white bread.

The chain, it seems, was worried that people eating the sausages would enter their stores and drop onions on the floor, leading other customers to slip, fall and perhaps sue.

“Onions can be slippery when they fall out of a sausage sandwich,” Bunnings wrote in a flyer distributed to community groups that included instructions for constructing a sandwich. “To make sure that onions don’t end up on the ground and pose a slipping risk, please apply a small amount of onion to the bread under the sausage when serving.”

Australians, who take pride in their “sausage sizzles,” immediately responded with outrage. For many, the guidance was nothing short of an attack on their personal freedom. Yet again.

In a country that prides itself on outback ingenuity and self-reliance, the onion slippage scheme seemed to just confirm (for some, at least) that they are living in a nanny state, where the government legislates too much of their lives: from requiring helmets when bicycling to dictating the times they are allowed to have a drink.

The irony of a store that encourages customers to “do it yourself,” regulating the minutiae of sausage and onion construction, was not lost on its customers.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Liam Magee, a co-owner of Massive Wieners, a hot dog restaurant in Melbourne, said of Bunnings’ onion policy.

Magee said his restaurant placed onions beneath a sausage upon request only — usually from customers with beards who wanted to minimize mess. “We call it an underdog,” he said. But, he added, “if you don’t see the onion, it’s going to reduce prebite satisfaction.”

Others pointed out that the supposed safety measures might actually increase the risk of spillage; the greasy onion might make the bread soggy, possibly even splitting it open.

Worse still, the controversy led citizens to learn that their compatriots in Western Australia don’t put their sausages on white bread, but on rolls, akin to American hot dogs.

Bunnings did its best to respond seriously to the barrage.

“Safety is always our No. 1 priority,” Debbie Poole, a spokeswoman for Bunnings Warehouse, said in a statement. “Regardless of how you like your onion and snag,” she said (using an Australia term for sausage), “we are confident this new serving suggestion will not impact the delicious taste or great feeling you get when supporting your local community group.”

The company denied that the guidance was really a marketing ploy intended to go viral.

“This is not about marketing,” Poole said. “This recommendation has been made in the best interest of customer safety.”