The night time consumption of milk and cheese is associated with restful sleep; dreams of plenty; the land of milk and honey - as well as nightmares, terrors and bizarre visual disturbances. The potential powers of nurture and sustenance are cut through with spectres of the diabolical. Hippocrates described “monstrous bodies that are seen in sleep and frighten a man indicate a surfeit of unaccustomed food...”
The affiliation of cheese with bad dreams is so entrenched in the popular imagination, in 2005 the British Cheese Board commissioned a study to try and dispel the link. ‘Now that our Cheese and Dreams study has finally debunked the myth that cheese gives you nightmares we hope that people will think more positively about eating cheese before bed,’ claimed the BSB secretary Nigel White in a press release Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese They claim that rather than causing nightmares, cheese precipitated pleasant nighttime fantasies, even that different regional products incubate different dream forms: women who ate Stilton had unusual dreams replete with talking animals, people eating Cheddar dreamt about celebrities, participants eating Red Leicester dreamt of their schooldays, all female participants who ate British Brie had relaxing dreams whereas males had cryptic dreams, whereas over half of Cheshire eaters had no dreams at all.
There are theories that the bacteria and fungi present in blue cheese such as tryptamine or tyramine, have psychoactive effects, though the report concludes that is the presence of the stress releasing amino acid tryptophan in cheese that may be triggering these phantasms. Tryptophan was first isolated from the milk protein casein by Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins in 1913. He discovered that tryptophan could not be manufactured by the body, and has to be obtained from the diet, and is essential for animal life, It is the least abundant of the essential amino acids, but it is one of the most crucial, as it is involved in the formulation of niacin and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin regulates mood and appetite. In turn it is also essential for the production of the hormone melatonin, which we need to maintain circadian rhythms, to sleep.
The most vivid and sustained popular incantation of a cheese-based dreamworld is to be found in Winsor McCays 1900’s cartoon strips and animations Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. It is a world of nightmares fraught with episodes of wish fulfillment, exaggerated scale and perspective triggered by the nighttime snacking of cheese in what was the 19th century’s junk craze in a proto-pizza form – the welsh rarebit. This was a spiced, melted cheese on toast dish widely eaten and readily available in New York at the time of its emergence as a modern super city. The comic strip appeared daily in the New York Herald from 1904 to 1925, and in 1921 McCay made two animations based on the strip The Pet, and The Flying House. Here to be found is an apparition of species-ism, with an outsize and insatiable beast masquerading as a domestic pet, and a flying sequence where the householders transcend capitalisms emerging hold, with its illusions of rationale and security underpinned by the nightmare inculcation into the de-stabilising debt-economy. The marauding beast trounces New York’s newly built skyscrapers and the maverick householders literally fly their house into space to escape their mortgage debt and the suburban grid. They can only be stopped by state military intervention with their new forms of heavy machine artillery, and the dreamers own salutary return to consciousness.
McCay incants the structural forms of bizarre dreaming: narrative disruption, gigantism, dissolution, emergence of form constants and geometric schemas, disruptions in spatio-temporal relations and various forms of primitive motion; spinning, undulating, fragmentations, translocations. He works with transformations in visual and somatic perception, emotion, thought, interpersonal relations, motoric capacities, disembodied presences and shifts in aerial perspective. These formations are acted out in the social world and come up against the interpersonal, political and technological manifestations of the age, including new technologies and machine violence of the first world war. He introduces out of body dream experiences to the phenomena of mechanized flight, the shifting horizon to corporate high rise architecture and the ‘everyman’ to new formations of class and labour. He evidences wish fulfillments, social embarrassment, shame, fear of dying, of debt, of reality collapsing altogether and of going insane.
There is a constant awareness of social structure – of ‘getting ahead’ both as a prevailing cultural imperative and a systematic impossibility – both an aspiration and a source of shame. Being engulfed by acts of social humiliation or an outsize gender adversary recurs again and again. The cartoonist places himself in the strip as the character Silas – breaking the fourth wall by inserting his own presence in the story along with an internal narrative of anxious doubts – and in the manipulation of the picture frame through various distortions, punctures and collapses.
The characters go through a sublimation of their instinctive drives in the emergence into this new world, where new modalities are being folded into everyday life. The move for many Americans at that time was from a predominantly rural to urban context leading to very different relationship with animals, animality and our own animal origins. The repression and sublimation of instinctive desires and modes of behavior emerge in narratives where animals loom large over the body as we learn to disavow them to find acceptance in this newly emergent technologically driven, machine based society. In one sequence the face is invaded by a coterie of mutilating animals. In another, the yowling of a sexually active cat drives a man to disassemble his own body in a self destructive frenzy, as incorporates his own body parts as artillery to feed a supply of missiles to silence the beast.
Some of the visual interferences laid down in bizarre dream forms are believed to a kind of interruption - abstract form constants that are the precursors to complex vision, and mental constructions, ur-forms of the motion through 3D space. Common to the dream form and the cartoon strip: lattices, grids and filigrees, circular figures and radiations, wavy lines, drift and duplication. They are believed to be reduced forms resonant of the image yet to come. These schema could be precursors to complex abstract thought. One current theory is that memories are coded temporarily by the hippocampus throughout the day, and then at night while we sleep, or dream the memories are transferred to other parts of the brain via a process called memory consolidation. The motifs of geometry, of emancipatory abstraction and a more reductive shaping based on platonic forms and data analysis emerge through the flow of time – and materialise metaphorically, indexically and strategically in dairy form.
In medieval dream landscapes such as Cockaygne and Lukkerland - animals offer themselves up in consumable forms, with cutlery ready in their beaks or carving knives plunged into their backs, ready and waiting to be feasted upon. (Perhaps they are ready to eat themselves, a culinary ouroboros, in a self-sacrificial eternal return). Although Cockaygne and Lukkerland are dream landscapes and fantastical forms, the motif of animal self-sacrifice is laid down in doctrine. According to medieval exegesis, God’s instruction to Adam to name the animals gave humans dominion over them. Through this divine mandate, the act of naming allowed humans to make use of what they named, in any way they saw fit. Thomas Aquinas interpreted this to mean that animals existed primarily for human consumption, reasoning that fish swam in schools only in order to help us catch them. This legitimised instrumentalisation of nature set in motion a pervasive humanism that we are only just beginning to dismantle in the face of species and habitat extinction.
The constant threat of hunger dominated the medieval age. Eating in excess was in defiance of scarcity, a refusal to surrender to starvation. Public and collective feasting performed a ritual surfeit, to hold inevitable oncoming shortages in abeyance. Feasting and carnival in Europe also coincided with the seasonal availability of food – a late autumn and winter for feasting on stores of food post harvest when little agricultural work could be done – whereas the warmth of spring and summer opened up periods where abstinence was viable, so was punctuated by religious fasting. By the thirteenth century the motif of community gathering also became a means to delineate social distinction – with nobles holding sumptuous banquets in ostentatious displays of grandeur, excess and power.
There were not only copious amounts of food on the tables of the aristocracy, but it took on animate forms incorporating great tableaux and scenes of pillage and shipwreck, battles sieges, military encampments and biblical epics. There were inversions and deceptions, with substitutions and re-moldings of one food substance reconstituted to look like another.
There were automatons, whales spewing fish, singing mermaids and cavaliers, a dromedary releasing birds from pies to swarm around the dining hall, only to be rounded up by a royal falcon.
Edible architecture of epic proportions began to make its appearance on banqueting tables of the wealthy, presenting what a working person could only dream of. Whilst a working person could only dream of aristocratic feasting, in the eighteenth century the aristocracy fantasised the work of the peasant labourer. Marie Antoinette for one staged pagaents of the pastoral, and built a dairy in the grounds of Versailles, where she would perform the ritual consumption of freshly drawn milk complete with a sixty-five-piece Sèvres porcelain service, including porcelain buckets mimicking the wooden counterparts in use in the peasant economy, and rhitons modeled as perfect breasts with pert pink nipples.
At the present moment the supply of food in industrialised nations means that urban supermarkets are permanently and copiously filled, with 24 hour availability. Fantasies of food without labour are partially facilitated through drone agriculture and robotic checkouts. Bizarre novelty food forms persist in novel form, and find their way into every corner shop.
On a recent visit to Japan, the sweet and snack shelves of the con-bini – the convenience stores on every city corner had me in thrall. I’m drawn to the forms that appear through capitalism’s regurgitation of folk tales in commodity form as novelty foodstuffs, and their semi-monstrous mascots and leering marketing avatars, a consumer space in which spectres of the macabre and the bizarre surface.
The shelves and the streets and the subways vibrate with character and colour and action graphics. A blushing round headed figure and his entourage of friends and enemies are ubiquitous and seem to populate large swathes of the snack aisles and freezer cabinets. One appears to be an oyster-head with a discontented lemon as the mascot on his own superhero chest. They are gurning and flying from all directions in digital brilliance.
There is a school of seafood snacks – the fantastic forms of sea-life freeze dried, laid out and abjected. They bear joyful caricatures in a celebration of complicit auto-sarcophagy. Squid and Octopus and Shrimp in a scarlet, cartoon submission. The wide open, insatiable, all consuming mouth is a motif I see again and again. Gari ice cream company had made a promotional stress toy of it’s trademark gaping mouth, we manually help it to chew, ingest, but it stoically returns to its wide open stance. These ice creams are extraordinary to my palate – raman flavour, spicy tomato.
The wide open mouth is an image I keep seeing around me in manga and anime as well– a mouth ready to receive, (sexually?) consume, exhale, scream. In TV and online pizza–la ads, the cheerful toppings dance and jingle to the prospect of their own imminent consumption, while triangular slices of the base mouth gestures of dread, exaltation and fury.
The prospect of auto-sarcophagy is a theme that occurs again and again, in gleeful submission. Chicken breasts are augmented with human breasts, as if to make them attractive to us as well as to each other. I also find gelatinous confections of human breasts, and corn snack breasts.
Eyes are in wide and enucleated gaze from packets and shelves, from foodstuffs to effigies and comic books, linking eye and mouth and desire. In one store I wander in to this is amplified by a vast array of eyeballs marketed in kit form to interchange and accessorise into the empty sockets of the skulls of dolls.
A toilet winks in full and sardonic recognition of the ocular and jocular, as children suck the foaming effluent from its bowl. Packaging is full of quick witted humour - black sesame paste delineates an afro, shorn when the packet is opened and the bun removed. Later, I find out that Apanman, the blushing roundhead man is not only a mascot – but a cartoon character who also endorses things. Many things. I begin to see his image everywhere. Apanman’s round head is made from bread, and filled with bean paste. Apanman sustains himself with the bean paste from inside his own head. He even offers those unfortunates without food to partake of parts of his own bread head.
If his head is consumed or damaged beyond the point of self regeneration – Uncle Jam simply bakes another and the old withered head flies off his shoulders, eyes turned to Xs in their sockets. His friends – a man with a slice of white bread for a head, melon bread head, curry pasty head, cream bun head. The man I thought was an oyster-head is a pastry filled with curry paste. Their enemies are henchmen who can rot these bread-heads with mould. A weak and disassembling skeleton, and Baikinman– bacteria man - are their adversaries, whose ambition is to rid the world of Apinman and populate it with bacteria. He transpires to be an extraordinary figure, ridden with existential angst, operating in complex moral uncertainty. He is a loved and popular children’s anime character, but one of the most promiscuous and reproduced I have ever seen.
We find the legacies and remnants of folk history, and of the bizarre and formerly transgressive being incorporated into corporate merchandise as normative food products in many countries in the world – here we return to the theme of dairy in some German examples. Bum bum ice cream, and the suggestive creamy dreams. We see themes of abjection, open mouthed consumption and desecration, contortions of fantasy and the uncanny through popular icons and mascots, ephemera and folk material.
They are a nexus between human and non human worlds and other possible worlds. Junk mascots and celebration foods are a reliliquary for these themes of transformism, the baroque, the bizarre and the grotesque. Demonic, gurning, otherworldly. Characters with rictus grins and popping eyes, and hybrid body forms populate the market. Milk is whipped into multiple forms The McFlurry, Mr. Whippy, Dairy Queen Blizzard, Cheese String, Dreaming Cow, Laughing Cow, Skinny Cow, Happy Cow, Crusha, Marvel—dairy icons that perform health and the abuse of health; an array of high-calorie, high-fat, low-calorie, low-fat, high-sugar, sugar-free, highly processed glimmer, with techno-scientific, multicolor, hedonistic, and eroticized appeal. The cow, used frequently as a metaphor for the passive, dumb, and exploited, is often replaced by marketing mascots wily, smart-talking animals and apocryphal consumers of milk—cats, rabbits, mice. The ontologies of donor species collapses as milk re-forms into consumable biomass. In novelty frozen form milk adopts any and every shape, superheroes, cartoon villains, baroque architectonics, platonic solids to human body parts.
So food made large, human sized, mobile and perambulatory are themes that run through folk history and fairytale, from the medieval tales to the present. In Breughel’s Het Luiekkerland in Dutch ‘lazy luscious land’ houses are roofed with pies, our aforementioned pig trots by with the carvery knife ready inserted into its flank for easy pickings. But these engorged men were not just here for our amusement – it was also a secular political commentary on the rivalries of the Hapsburg catholic orthodoxy and Calvinist resistance. The land of plenty, of milk and honey is a foundation myth of America and accompanies its promotional culture throughout the early twentieth century. Giant lobsters, vegetables, ice creams: a rebellious, all- consuming, self-directed proletariat appear as motifs again and again. These are assertions of the right for excess.
The construction secrets of these fibreglass and fur avatars are revealing. As emptied out casts and molds and shells they speak more clearly to us as ciphers of nihilistic excess. In the quest for endless satiation – advertisers and business and consumer culture has always incorporated that which it also sought to oppress, exploit and annihilate.
South American plantation workers, native American energy avatars removed from mineral rich lands, enslaved African American workers then underpaid domestic workers are incorporated as logos to promote the products produced by their own underpaid labour. Demonic forces that are legible in the figures and mascots produced over the trajectory of high capitalism.
Ernst Bloch argued that dreams of hope are important to cultivate and defend since they represent our radical or revolutionary urge to restructure society so that we can finally achieve home. Dreaming which stands still foreshadows no good. Dreaming ahead is excitingly alive. He focuses on the way the underdog, the small person, finds inventive means of getting by, not only to live, but live a better life. Bloch insists that there is good reason for the timelessness of traditional fairy tales, “Not only does the fairy tale remain as fresh as longing and love, but the demonically evil, which is abundant in the fairy tale, is still seen at work here in the present, and the happiness of – once upon a time, which is even more abundant, still affects our visions of the future.”
John Berger claims that the first paintings were of animals, and our relationship with them tells us much about ourselves.
He reminds us that animals perform as ciphers of futurity – and indeed what we rehearse on them we later perpetrate on humans, whether it be models of work, extinction, mass industrialisation, medicine and now fertility, social organisation and genetic modelling. The terms vaccine and vaccination are derived from the latin Variolae vaccinae (smallpox of the cow), the term designated for cowpox by Edward Jenner. He used it to describe the protective effect of cowpox in cows against smallpox in humans, noticing that dairymaids had become immune to smallpox after their exposure in the milking shed. The origin of inoculation against disease is to be found in the dairy. In another origin tale, the detailed datasets gathered from dairy breeding programmes generated some of the earliest applications of quantative analysis, and became a model for other industries to follow.
Advances in genetics and human fertility programmes were gleaned from research into the reproduction of cows. Animals are given a value, or Lifetime Net Merit, in dollars. Factors used in the calculation include an estimate of how much a bull’s genetic material will affect the potential revenue from a dairy cow.
Fluid, fat, protein ratios of the milk, and the quality of the ensuing progeny are predicted by gene markers and heritable traits, as well as pedigree records and market conditions. Body size, udder condition, foot, leg and body ratios, cheese merit, fluid merit, daughter calving ease, productive life, daughter pregnancy rate, and stillbirth rate are all deduced through complex calculations of big datasets. There is an air of rationality gone wild, cold logic mixed with hijinks whimsy and mythopoesis: one bull who was scientifically calculated as possessing the highest net worth is named Badger-Bluff Fanny Freddie, and another, Ensenada Taboo Planet-Et.
After thirty years of the intense genetic manipulation of cows to maximize profit, as part the US Dairy Association’s national “animal improvement programme” a recent academic paper surmises: “intense and accurate selection has led to substantial genetic improvement in milk, butterfat and protein yield” though “genetic change in health and reproduction has been undesirable”. Yields increase whilst bodies diminish.
The animate properties of milk, its ability to separate and transform into a plethora of shapes and constituents sets it on a cascade of separations and re-combinations, of extrusions, extractions and abstractions. Historically milk is separated with tools: first with clay, later wood, metal, electrically powered machines, robots. Now its separations can be planned at the scale of the microbe, the cellular, the genetic. The representations on the packaging and the forms of the container either reinforce sentimentalized versions of an essentialized nature using historical techniques and mimetic representations, or they bask in the alienation created in commodity chains that lead from cow to humans, foregrounding the technologies of production and the industrial triumph of invariant standardization.
The Platonic tetrahedral forms pioneered by TetraPak in the 1950s are now being inserted into prescient new markets in what is seen as a “golden opportunity” for the future of the dairy industry. It is to introduce dairy ‘Deeper in the Pyramid’. Currently profits are gleaned from the apex of the economic pyramid, based on a high return from a relatively small number of sales. By digging deeper into the pyramid, pitching goods at the mass population living on subsistence income between Euro 1.80 and Euro 7.20 a day, the exponential number of low return profits promise a new era of expansion.
To make products “affordable", to ensure profitability ‘local’, niche product lines will be developed using cheaper alternatives to whole milk – such as whey, lactic acid or other milk derivatives with vegetable oils.
New niche product lines are also seen as essential for any future expansion in the saturated western market, and to return us to our anxieties of rest and sleep. There is a new range of milk products on the market; Lullaby milk, Slumber Bedtime Milk, Nacht-Milchkristalle all produced by milking cows at dawn, as it believed to be rich in melatonin, produced as it is in the hours of darkness. A lack of melatonin leads us to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and prevents us from entering a dream state.
A probiotic microbe recently discovered in human breast milk led animals to grow unusually lustrous fur. Further observation of the males revealed thick skin bristling with active follicles, elevated testosterone levels and oversize testicles. Females developed higher levels of oxytocin.The enteric nervous system contains a hundred million neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, which measures about nine meters end to end from the oesophagus to the anus. The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, and 95 per cent of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels. An excess of serotonin is as disruptive to mental health as a defiency. We are beginning to understand that gut microbia facilitate change not only in the gut, but in sexual reproduction, brain physiology and neurochemistry. The interplay between food, microbia and the gut have multiple effects on affect, motivation, and higher cognitive function. This association between microbia in food, the gut and brain chemistry is so profound that the new field of psychobiotics is forming. The link then between eating and dreaming, eating and thinking, human and nonhuman entities is far more profound than the science of the modern era ever knew, but Hippocrates recognised in the monstrous spectres that appeared in the night.