Freudian slips in the kitchen

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MAX STEINLING is a kitchen psychologist. He is, as far as he knows, the only person in the world who studies patterns of behaviour peculiar to the kitchen. And does he find much Freudian food for thought?

'My friend,' he smiles, 'this is so typical of a journalist. I can feel you want me to tell you about sex in the kitchen. About repression and lust] Well, you know, raising the matter of sex tells us much more about you than anything else.'

But I did not raise the subject of sex. He did.

'That is as may be,' says the doctor, in the smooth way in which experts never admit to anything. 'But what we find in the kitchen is interesting enough without the addition of spice.

'For instance, have you ever noticed that there is one certain implement in your kitchen that is always being lost? Of course, it varies from kitchen to kitchen. It might be a pair of tongs in one place, perhaps. Or a particularly long wooden spoon with someone else. While there are many other tools that are never lost.'

I had to admit that this was certainly so in my kitchen. Especially with a certain pair of orange-handled scissors, which are never in the same drawer twice.

'But surely that is because that tool is most often used, and therefore most often lost?'

'On the contrary. The most often-used tools have the most regular place and are the hardest to lose. Do we ever lose our kettle? Our teapot? I think not.'

Hmm. But why?

'Jealousy. Possessiveness. In almost every case, that tool has come to symbolise something about the other person that you resent, or fear or even desire.'


'Exactly. But this is the sensational side of kitchen life. What I am working on at the moment is the more subtle effect on people of the arrival of the dishwasher, which has destroyed the old washing-up hierarchy.'

The . . . ?

'In the old days, when you got up from a meal, there would be a pause before the washing-up, as people worked out who was going to clear the table, who would wash, dry, put away, etc. None of these functions is naturally pleasant or unpleasant, and yet there was always prejudice against some of them. 'I hate drying', people would say. 'I'm happier doing the washing', and so on.'

I don't quite see . . .

'Well, this was because some people in life were natural driers, some natural washers and so on. They are psychologically suited to different functions.'


'It would take too long to explain, but it has to do with hierarchy and natural feelings of inadequacy. Which one are you?'

I tend to opt for drying up.

'It does not surprise me. An irresponsible option. Very like a journalist. But my point is that with the arrival of the dishwasher, all this has been lost. All we do now is load up a machine and leave it. We have been deprived of our old functions and we are suffering for it.'


'Exactly. It has happened before, of course. When gas stoves arrived, it eliminated all the hierarchy involved in laying, lighting, maintaining and cleaning fireplaces.'

What other areas of kitchen research is he pursuing?

'Well, there is still a lot about fridge life we don't know.'

Fridge life?

'Fridge behaviour, I should say. I still have not learnt why people keep old leftovers in a fridge long after the date when they know they have become unusable and will have to be thrown away. Talk about retentive . . . And I am still trying to solve the milk-in-the-fridge syndrome.'

The . . . ?

'People like to use their milk up in the order in which it arrives. Therefore they line up the bottles in the fridge and use the oldest first. This means that they never drink fresh milk, although it is always available to them . . .

'I am also investigating the way in which some people take easily to aprons, and others would rather be dead than don one. Why do some people rinse crockery when washed, and others firmly leave the soapy water on? Why do some people easily wipe their hands on the tea towel, and others think it is beyond the pale?'

And what use is this research?

'No use at all. The point is that it would make a superb television series, and I think the time is ripe for one on kitchen behaviour. Presented by me.'

Interested producers can contact Dr Max Steinling via me, his new agent.