Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Are What You Eat

Our LOVELY BABY has been eating lots of interesting things recently. Not just coins, batteries and carpet fluff, but stuff recommended in baby books as well. As a result I have been sent to Tesco to buy tofu.

Being a lifelong omnivore (apart from a few weeks in my teens when I was trying to impress a vegetarian girl, but it turned out that there were other, more fundamental things putting her off from going out with me) I had no idea which supermarket aisle I would find tofu in. My local Tesco is one of the largest in the country, so I thought I had better ask for help.

As well as being massive, this branch of Tesco is in the most ethnically diverse part of the most ethnically diverse city in the country. What I am saying is that the staff look like the cast of Mind Your Language. This is absolutely fine with me - if I wanted to live entirely surrounded by white English people I would go back to the village I was brought up in, with its pure Anglo-Saxon language, albino-white skin and particularly choosy females. (Why wouldn't she go out with me? Why?)

So I asked a West Indian shelf-stacker where I might find tofu. He didn't know, but went to ask a Middle Eastern man on the deli counter. He didn't know either, but asked a passing South-East Asian colleague. She didn't know either, and the game of Chinese Whispers continued. Literally in her case. Then it became a game of Indian Whispers, then Hispanic Whispers until that employee asked an Eastern European man with a particularly thick accent who was pushing a large trolley of empty cardboard boxes.

"Tofu?" he replied, like a young spaniel who had just been asked if he'd be at all interested in chasing a stick. "Yes! Aisle seven!" He quickly set off, motioning that I should follow him.

I liked this last man immediately. It is perhaps a patronising cliche to say that all Eastern Europeans are hard-working and polite and respectable, but I knew instinctively that this man had come over with his wife and children to London NW10, where the streets are paved with fried chicken wrappers, but that he loved it here, and that he loved to work and that his heart was overflowing with pride and joy at being able to help someone on what was almost certainly his very first day in the job.

I followed him down an aisle that I had never been down before, full of strange, exotic items.

"There!", he beamed, proudly pointing at a shelf. "Tofu!"

I looked at the bags of Winalot and the tins of Pal and tried to pinpoint the exact link at which communications had broken down. We were looking not at tofu, but at dog food.

I scrutinised the Eastern European man's face. It was full of expectation, desperately hoping that I would validate his reason for emigrating here. Would he be able to go home to his wife and children and proudly say, "Today, I help man"?

"That's great, thank you", I mumbled. "He'll love this." I picked up a couple of tins of Pedigree Chum with the intention of leaving them at the checkout. Though I expect they're tastier than tofu.