Friday, 17 September 2010

Food for thought

My friend R gave me the most wonderful book for my birthday: Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. It intrigued me from the very beginning, partly because it's so eloquent, but mostly because it is written from the perspective of a surgeon (and they intrigue me even more than language at this point in my life.) I haven't finished the book yet, but I want to share the following paragraph:
Yes! A treasure trove of words! That's what you find in medicine. Take the food metaphors we use to describe disease: the nutmeg liver, the sago spleen, the anchovy sauce sputum, or currant jelly stools. Why, if you consider just fruits alone you have the strawberry tongue of scarlet fever, which the next day becomes raspberry tongue. Or how about the strawberry angioma, the watermelon stomach, the apple core lesion of cancer, the peau d'orange appearance of breast cancer ... and that's just fruits! Don't get me started on the nonvegetarian stuff!
The descriptions are so vivid, they make the diseases sound strangely beautiful. Or perhaps it's the fascination, the act of looking closely, that I find beautiful. Of course, the phrase, "the peau d'orange appearance of breast cancer" — evoking dimpling of the skin — gave me a jolt, given my orange surgery metaphor.  I texted Mr A to see if he'd heard of the "peau d'orange" expression. (He has.) It reminded me also of a conversation we had some time ago about food, medicine and belief.

Mr A advised the use of manuka honey to heal a large, necrotic hole in my newly reconstructed breast, and it was an extraordinary experience to watch the healing process. (Actually, it was an extraordinary experience trying to get manuka honey from the NHS on prescription. But I digress.) I've since incorporated manuka honey into my diet, inspired by the conversation we had.

"Imagine," he said, "If the honey can work wonders on the outside, what it can do to your inside." He announced he was a Muslim; tit for tat, I said I was a Jew. We talked about miraculous foods in the Qu'ran: dates, he thought, were one of four magical foods that get a special mention, alongside honey. But he couldn't remember the stories, let alone the remaining foods, and said he would consult a learned friend and get back to me. (He did. More soon.)

Meanwhile, I've been shopping. And bought some dates.

(But not here. I went to Sainsbury's.)
Image by Zaphgod at

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