As in other countries, food and national identity are closely linked in England. Since the sixteenth century the English have considered beef as the commodity that best expresses their perceived national characteristics of common sense, love of liberty, manliness and martial prowess. Even today beef remains a popular emblem of nationhood, as witness the deep national indignation when the product was declared unsafe in the 1990s. Discussing the relationship between diet, food and national identity, this article explores the history and meaning of beef in England, and also instances of food imagery employed in nationalist discourse in the past and in the present. Once a familiar figure in prints and literature, ‘the eating Englishman’ has been replaced by images of ‘the Englishman being eaten’, an indication of increasing national uncertainty, especially since the end of the Second World War. It is proposed that this phagophobic reaction is the result of continuing strains in Anglo-European relations.