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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Forget classical music this week,
as cellist, food expert and agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH
deals with fancy goldfish, cannibalism and poisoning

Dear Alice

why do my fancy goldfish attack each other, i gazed at my fish tank and noticed that one of them (winnie) was biting their tails and eating them. Please tell me why?


Dear Tamsin,

First of all, my knowledge of goldfish (especially fancy ones) is scanty. Mainly I just (a) change water, (b) add copious quantities of table salt and (c) hope for the best. However (and how can it put this delicately?) according to the fish guru in my local pet shop, goldfish are, er, um, as a whole rather interested in the continuance of the species, not to say disinclined to take 'no' for an answer ... The symptoms you describe strongly remind me of the time a couple of years ago when I went to Brian, all upset, because one of my (unfancy) goldfish kept chasing (and 'nibbling at') another one. What I'm trying to say is this: have you considered the hormonal solution? And have you space for 35 extra goldfish?

Yours, concerned,

Ask Alice

My dear Clarice,

I've enrolled for a psychology course at my local community college, although I'm bored senseless because the material and the quality of teaching is so basic, and I am feeling dreadfully low. To be honest, I was expecting much much more from adult education on this continent. My mind keeps turning to cooking and eating my fellow students, but they're a jolly and friendly bunch. Although I've been very good so far and only dined out on one of them, I think someone suspects ... can you advise me, Clarice? I think I need some serious emotional, psychological and legal help!

Hannibal Lecter, Sydenham

Dear Hannibal-in-Sydenham,

Look, now you really do have to get a grip. Far be it from me to order anyone about, regardless of their creed, colour, or taste, but I really doubt that dining out on (even!!!!) one of your fellow students is QUITE the way local community colleges expect people to take their 'friendly, open-minded and accessible' image ... Neither Clarice, nor I, nor anyone else, can help someone anywhere near as sick as yourself, so may I recommend giving psychology (not to mention cookery) a miss, and having a go at politics instead?


Ask Alice

Review of the book of the year (and no, I didn't write it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

How to poison your spouse the natural way: a guide to safer food
by Jay D Mann PhD

How to Poison Your Spouse the Natural Way -- A Guide to Safer Food

This book, which ought to be in every house in every country, is divided into three, easily digested, parts:

  1. Dangers we should worry about but don't: including some beans, alfalfa, some shellfish, mouldy foods, some herbal medicines
  2. Dangers we worry about for no reason: including chemicals (both natural and man-made) MSG, preservatives
  3. Things we ought to know: about (mis)information, cancer, hormesis, proven ways to prolong life

All this information is pithily written, beautifully set-out and cleverly organised.

Here, for example, is Dr Mann on Tetrodotoxin (TTX):

In Japan, some diners live dangerously by gambling with the serious risk of poisoning from tetrodotoxin (TTX). Somewhat bizarrely, puffer fish is a favourite seafood delicacy in Japan, where specially licensed chefs prepare 'fugu' in a way that is supposed to give just enough toxins for a mild kick. Every now and then the chef makes a mistake, with serious consequences. It's been estimated that there are about 400 cases of TTX poisoning in Japan each year, half of them fatal ... TTX is an incredibly effective poison, ten thousand times more toxic than cyanide. Barely one 1 milligram of TTX will kill an adult human.

Here is Dr Mann on preservatives:

A major cause of consumer fears of preservatives is, I suspect, the ludicrous E-number system that was misguidedly installed by bureaucrats for administrative reasons. So instead of a label listing 'vitamin C' as an ingredient, my favourite fruit juice is said to contain 'E300'. Since that's exactly what I buy fruit juice for, why hide this information from me?

Here is Dr Mann on homeopathy:

Homeopathic preparations are unbelievably dilute. On a homeopathic label, the 'C' means '100'. Therefore '20C' signifies that the original material has been repeatedly diluted twenty times by a factor of 100. The final concentration would be 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000001 of the starting mixture ... The original chemical will be lost during these extreme dilutions.

This book is historically informed in ways unimagined by most food writers. Here is Dr Mann on broad beans:

The ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras thought that broad beans were the food of the dead, not for the living. He forbade his disciples to consume or even touch the plants. This turned out to be a fatal policy. When the teacher and his pupils were trapped by an angry mob, they could have escaped through a field of broad beans. True to their beliefs, however, they abjured the beans -- and were killed!

Anyone interested (and who isn't?) in a robust, amusing and no-nonsense guide through the thicket of 'safe' and 'unsafe' food simply has to buy this book. A New Zealand publication, for details please contact:

JDM & Associates
4 Kantara Land
Christchurch 8002
New Zealand.


Copyright © 18 November 2005 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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