Sunday, February 15, 2009

This post contains a post

The airline packet of peanuts adorned with the warning “May contain nuts” is getting old now – both as a joke for stand-ups about how stupid people are, and as a mouth-foam prompt for rants about the Nanny State and Health and Safety Culture and Political Correctness Gone Mad and what have you – so I don’t want to bang on in either of those veins.

And I also know there are some pretty daft people in this world. For instance, there are, I suppose, people who fall for those Nigerian email scams.

….Amazingly persistent, those Nigerian email scammers, aren’t they? Dear friend, someone has left you $10 million in their will… They’re particularly keen on Mrs Brit’s Yahoo account and sometimes there are five or six of these inexplicably generous and wealthy benefactors bequeathing fortunes to her in a single day. You’d think that by now nobody, but nobody, could be sucker enough to stick up the ten grand demanded under whatever unlikely pretext it happens to be, but still the Nigerians send these things out, and it must be worth their while or they wouldn’t bother. For all I know, email scamming might be one of Nigeria’s major industries, a key contributor to the country’s GDP. They probably have Email Scamming degree courses in Nigerian universities. It might be considered a very respectable career choice, along with doctoring and lawyering (both of which are far more respected than they ought to be of course). In fact, it may well be our duty to fall for one of these scams every now and again to help keep the Nigerian economy healthy…

But I digress. The point is, that even allowing for maximum daftness, and even allowing for maximum Nanny State-age, I was taken aback to find this warning on my box of Sainsbury’s Family (why Family? I know not) Free Range eggs:

That’s right, it says “Allergy advice: Contains Egg”.

Upon spotting this, I was immediately sent into a dizzying metaphysical spin. In what possible circumstance can it be necessary to inform the purchaser that his egg contains egg? Surely the basic levels of intelligence required for someone to be able to read and understand the words “Contains” and “egg” would negate the need for the warning?

Could it be a warning that the box itself contains egg? You’d think that the desire to have eggs would be the very reason for the original purchase, but perhaps Sainsbury’s are thinking of a buyer who just happened to like the look of the box for its own sake and bought it without investigating the nature of its contents. But again, the fact that it contains eggs is advertised in much larger letters on the top of the box…and of course upon opening the box the rather obvious presence of six actual eggs would surely come to the attention of the purchaser before he spotted the warning about the box containing eggs. I mean there they are, as plain as day, very hard to miss.

So it must be a warning that the eggs themselves contain egg. But is this really possible? Can a table contain a table? Can an egg contain an egg? Isn’t this a tautology? Not, perhaps, if it is a reference to a Platonic essentialist philosophy of forms. So just as a table contains ‘tableness’, so the eggs contain ‘eggness’ to a degree that is, while large, not quite as perfect as the Ideal Egg.

I don’t know. The egg box poses far more questions than it answers. I struggle to hold on to any strong theories these days; it’s becoming a problem.


monix said...

Thanks. I haven't laughed so much for weeks.

My very first post as a blogger was about the completeness of an egg, with this description by John Banville:
A thing that always struck me was the contrast between nest and egg. I mean the contingency of the former, no matter how well or even beautifully it was fashioned, and the latter's completedness, its pristine fulness. Before it is a beginning an egg is an absolute end. It is the very definition of self-containment.

David said...

Your family sized egg purchase is 6 eggs? In the states, that's the one-loser-living-alone portion. The family size has 18 eggs.

I've just checked, though, and our eggs are simply eggs and, so far as the label is concerned, don't include eggness.

outoftheblack said...

I can only think of two reasons for this. First, and I speak as someone who pedantically opens the box to check that it contains six whole undamaged eggs, it may be by way of a guarantee- along the lines of "No need to check, this box really does contain eggs."

Or possibly it's a meditatation on the paltry poultry lives wasted by all these eaten eggs- "Each egg might have been a chicken, which would have given more eggs, so each egg contains- eventually- eggs."

But it's probably just because supermarkets have expensive lawyers who need to justify their existence.

I get my eggs from the market, where no such warnings are considered necessary. The prawns even get weighed into small plastic bags with no label hinting that they might contain shellfish. I just never realised that I was shopping in the last bastion of sanity.

elberry said...

Interesting as another way our society seems very keen on offering descriptions of every facet of reality, to as it were put signposts on every road, even the little country roads where no one ever goes except the locals, or places like Blackburn where only terrorists and the depraved live.

Brit said...

I like the potential egg meditation theory, Outoftheblack. Let's go with that.

David - it's weirder than that. The 'family' does not apparently refer to the size of the box (our supermarkets sell them in dozens too), but to the eggs themselves. They are 'Family Free Range'. As opposed, presumably, to Unmarried Person's Free Range.

Kev said...

My favourite thing of this type that I encountered recently was a pair of shoes I bought that had written on the box "Average Contents: 2". I'm forced to consider that somebody is trying to give all of us a laugh but maybe I think too much of people.

Brit said...

That crossed my mind, Kev. But I fear the more likely explanation is job creation. Once you appoint someone Chief Food Warning Labeller, he's got to justify his existence.

David said...

Hm, maybe the eggs are siblings (which is a surprisingly yicky thought).