Great Essay About Food
If I can arouse in your mind a most earnest desire to be strong and vigorous, I shall not find it necessary to give you very minute directions, for if you have the ambition you will find the way. If I could excite in you an intense longing to visit Paris, I should know that you would begin to seek for the way of getting there. If I could create in you an earnest aspiration to be well and physically strong, I should know that you would seek for the books that would give you the necessary instruction. It will not be needful to talk of rules and restrictions if I can make you feel the glory of having a sound body.
If you were starting on a journey, I should not need to warn you of by-paths, of traps, or of dangers if I could be assured that your eye was fixed upon your ultimate destination. So it is in the matter of health; and yet there are some general rules or principles which I might lay down for your consideration.
In regard to the matter of diet. I do not want you to be hampered by “don’ts” and restrictions as to what you shall eat, but I do want you to eat with the thought in view that eating is to be governed by judgment and not by the pleasures of sense. Why do we eat? Not merely because the food tastes good. There is a better reason. We eat to live. We know that the food which we take into our bodies is digested, elaborated and assimilated—that is, made over into ourselves—and unless this digestion, elaboration and assimilation is properly conducted, we shall not be fully and completely nourished. Our body is made up of cells; the food which we eat is transformed into cell structure, and this new cell-material takes the place of the worn-out cells. Our reason would tell us that if too little material is furnished, cells will not be properly repaired and ill-health will follow. Our reason would tell us in the same way that if too much material is furnished, the machine will be clogged and the work will not be properly done. We will also understand at once that an irregular supply of new material would interfere with the elaboration of that which is undergoing the process of digestion and assimilation. We can see, too, that unless the various tissues receive the material which they can transform into themselves, they will not be fully repaired. If material is taken into the system which supplies no tissue with what it needs, this material becomes a source of irritation.
These general rules borne in mind are sufficient to guide us into a wiser life than if we do not understand them; and, understanding these general principles, we will be anxious to study the particular rules which govern digestion and assimilation.
I have known young women in college to be so absolutely ignorant or indifferent to physiological law as to be injuring themselves constantly by disobedience of such laws. I knew one girl, supposed to be a very fine student, and to have brought on “fits” by overstudy, while away at school. I had an opportunity to investigate the case, and I discovered that she had been eating from morning till night. She carried nuts, and candy, and apples in her pocket, had pickles and cake in her room, and studied and munched until it was no doubt a disturbed digestion, rather than an overused brain, that caused the “fits.”
If you will eat regularly of plain meat, vegetables, fruits, cereals, milk and eggs, plainly prepared, and avoid rich pastries, cakes, puddings, pickles and sweetmeats, you will have compassed the round of healthful diet, and need give yourself very little anxiety in regard to anything more. I should like to emphasize the fact, however, that tea and coffee are not foods. They are irritants, stimulants, nerve-poisons. They bring nothing to the system to build it up. They satisfy the sense of hunger without having contributed to the nourishment of the body. If you are wise you will avoid them. You will not create for yourself any false necessities. You will avoid the use of alcohol in all forms, whether wine, ales, beer or cider, as well as in the stronger forms, because you will know that these products interfere with digestion. Dr. Kellogg, of Battle Creek, has made an experiment which proved that sherry to the amount of 1 per cent. of the contents of the stomach retarded digestion nearly 4 per cent.
He calculates that 1 per cent. of sherry would be equal to two tenths of 1 per cent. of alcohol, and it would be necessary to take less than an ordinary tablespoonful of the wine to obtain this percentage.
When 3 per cent. of claret was used (equivalent to three-tenths of 1 per cent. of alcohol), there was marked diminution in digestive activity. This certainly proves that even the so-called light wines are injurious, and certainly the drinks that contain a large per cent. of alcohol must be that much more hurtful.
If you use good judgment both as to the quality and quantity of foods, you need then give the matter very little thought. People sometimes make themselves dyspeptics by worrying about what they eat. Eat what is set before you, making a judicious choice both as to variety and quantity, and then determine that your food shall digest.
When you live upon the higher plane of thought, you will not be so much interested in the question of food as regards gustatory pleasure. You will understand that eating is a necessity, but you will not be thinking about it; you will not be desiring to please the sense of taste; you will see that there are higher forms of sociability than mere eating with friends, and you will not be so interested in late suppers, and in various forms of sense gratification because you enjoy more thoroughly the higher pleasures. You will serve your friends with delicate food, simply and daintily prepared, and seasoned with that wit and wisdom which remain as a permanent mental pabulum. You will make them feel that when you come to visit them you come not to get something to eat, but to enjoy them, to receive from them the inspiration which they can give. We often treat our friends as if we thought they came as beggars for physical food. It is a much higher compliment to treat them as though we thought they came to exchange thoughts with us, to walk with us in the higher paths of living, and that the physical food we give them is only incidental. I was once entertained where a company of intelligent, cultured people were assembled, and we did not see the hostess from the time we entered the house until supper was served. She sat at the table, worried and anxious, and after the supper was over she did not make her appearance until just as we were about to leave. She did not pay us the high compliment of giving us herself, but she bestowed upon us that which a hired cook might have given.
You remember what Emerson says: “I pray you, O excellent wife, cumber not yourself and me to get a curiously rich dinner for this man and woman who have just alighted at our gate. These things, if they desire them, they can get for a few shillings at any village inn; but rather let that stranger see, if he will, in your looks, accents and behavior, your heart and earnestness, your thought and will, that which he cannot buy at any price in any city, and which he may travel miles and dine sparely and sleep hardly to behold.”
It would indeed be worth your while to study food scientifically, to know how to prepare dainty and tempting dishes wholesomely, and then to serve your guests with such beauty of manner, such graciousness of courtesy, that they will remember the meal they have taken with you as idyllic in its simplicity, beauty and helpfulness.