Killer Tomatoes

Somewhere in the vast body of psychoanalytic writing there must be something related to how early reading experiences within the family influence the way you read in adulthood. Freud reckoned, very roughly speaking, that infants think of producing poo as a primitive gift to the parents. It occured to me today that for those of us who learned to read before going to school, early demonstrations of reading ability for parental edification may operate within a similar dynamic. It may well be that the anal phase -the source of the phrase ‘potted too early’- in fact prefigures the later reading experiences, but whilst I don’t think I manifest particularly anal behaviour as normally recognised -preoccupation with money, amassing and ordering possessions and so on- I do have a tendency toward the obsessive when confronted with text.

Imagine the primal literary scene, where you’re down the street with a parent and you’re asked to read what it says on a sign, like ‘Stop Children’ or ‘Road Closed Blame The Terrorists’.  You say what the sign says, and you’re praised for it, but getting praised for the ability to read is different to getting praised for some other demonstration of accomplishment, like playing God Save The Queen on the piano for the first time. In the latter, the first time you play it note perfect, there is a sense of something being realised for the first time. In the former, you already pretty much knew what the sign said before you read it. And whereas you might move on to greater things on the piano, like playing with the Berlin Philharmonic, diminishing returns tends to set in early on when it comes to reading out what it says on signs.

So it may be that for people like me who get a sense of frustration when confronted with some text or other that just doesn’t make sense -at least not in the way that Stop Children or Shake Well Before Use used to make sense- what we are doing is replaying the early drama of reading for our parents and, in a roundabout way, trying to come to terms with the fact that that sort of easy exchange relationship is a thing of the past.

But even so. Today I was in a canteen and I came across a leaflet for healthy eating. It said:

Tomatoes…the mediterranean diet’s secret weapon

That sort of thing, I mean, it’s just wrong. Since when did diets have weapons? Since when did diets keep secrets? Are diets engaged in some sort of war? I know you have La Tomatina and the tradition of throwing rotten tomatoes at underwhelming performers, but what does it say about a society’s attitude to food that eating something can be portrayed as an act of aggression, albeit in self-defence (tomatoes fight off heart disease and stroke, apparently, though presumably not when fried and served alongside sausages, fried eggs and black pudding)?


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July 2008
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