Alexei Sayles: All these peanut allergies are the monkeys' revenge

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The Independent Online

I flew up to Scotland last weekend for a birthday party, and on the flight back British Airways served us all a fairly reasonable chicken curry for our tea. However, along with the curry and the rice in the little plastic dish, the inflight caterers had also provided a cooked tomato.

Now it was very kind of them to want to provide us travellers with a nice tomato, but really there is no way in the world that a cooked tomato goes with a curry; indeed a cooked tomato barely goes with anything at all.

Not like those big slices of orange they've started giving you at the end of a meal in a Chinese restaurant ­ they're very welcome.

This is a trend I noticed a few years ago, beginning, I would suspect, in London's Chinatown, where chunks of sliced orange would arrive with your bill. I now observe that the fashion has spread into the rest of the country. I am fairly certain you are meant to eat the slices of orange; they are not meant as decoration or anything ­ just as, it now occurs to me, the cooked tomato might have been meant, and the carved carrots.

Until recently, I was much less clear on what you are supposed to do with the carrots carved into the shape of flowers that you encounter adorning your meal in many upmarket Chinese and Thai dining establishments.

Generally I consume everything semi-edible on my or anybody nearby's plate, but I have always had a vague sense of unease concerning the carved carrots, to such an extent that I was moved to question the owner of one of these places on what you should do with your sculptured vegetables ­ eat or not eat.

This man replied that those who worked in the restaurant were horrified when a customer occasionally ate one of these things, because the intricately carved vegetables are meant entirely for decoration: indeed such is the intense amount of work and the years of training required to sculpt one of these legumes that a well-carved carrot is a family heirloom passed down from one generation of restaurateurs to the next.

At the really top oriental restaurants, he informed me (the Yang Sing in Manchester, say, or Vong or Mr Chow's in London), the carved carrots can be so ancient that they are frequently Tang Dynasty or possibly Ming, and are worth thousands of pounds each.

I have another similar problem in my local, highly authentic, Japanese restaurant. When you sit at the table in this place, your chopsticks are already there waiting for you, resting on a peanut in its shell. My practice at first was to immediately eat this peanut, since I was fairly certain that it was intended as an edible gift, given that I have often come across peanuts distributed free of charge in hotel lobbies, wine bars and such like.

But then, having eaten my peanut, I found that I had nowhere to rest my chopsticks, and this in turn led to me getting teriyaki sauce all over the tablecloth. So now what I do is I wait impatiently for the end of the meal, disregarding what I am eating more or less and then, when I'm finished, I shell and eat the nut. Sometimes, I have to admit, they do taste a bit stale, and that leads me to wonder whether they are supposed to be eaten at all.

I asked the owners, but they only quoted Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, who said: "When I grasped the real nature of the universe, I saw clearly that human beings must unite mind and body and the chi that connects the two, and then achieve harmony with the activity of all things in the universe."

So maybe they were saying it's probably best if I don't eat their peanuts. In fact, come to think of it, it's probably best if I don't eat peanuts anyhow. After all, 20 years ago allergies to peanuts were almost entirely unknown, but now it is estimated that one child in 20 and one in 12 circus elephants could have a possibly fatal reaction to peanuts.

The latest theory is that anti-eczema creams may be responsible for causing this severe reaction, but I've got another explanation ­ I reckon that monkeys are poisoning these nuts, and really you can hardly blame them, since mankind has destroyed their habitats, continues to torture them in pointless medical experiments, and makes them dress up in stupid costumes to advertise tea.

Expect more and more of this kind of thing as the 21st century continues. We cannot go on abusing the planet without nature snapping back at us in ways we have no means of anticipating. Any day now, endangered sloths will be screwing up our trips to work by dawdling at the ticket window at the station pretending to be unable to decide what travel pass to buy, rare oriental bears will be seen removing the locks from toilet doors in pubs and clubs, and if you look closely at what you think is a person driving down the middle lane of the motorway at a steady 65mph in a Jaguar, blocking traffic for miles behind, you will see that it is, in fact, a jaguar.

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