OUR diet was excellent as long as there was no science of dietetics. During thousands of years experience and tradition had aught men the value of the various foods. Our ancestors knew nothing about calories and vitamins, but they had magnificent teeth and reliable and excellent digestive organs.
The celebrated surgeon, Billroth, wrote seventy years ago that the fractures of rural workers which refused to heal in his model clinic healed promptly when they returned to their and were living once more on coarse, natural food. The science of nutrition still limps miles behind the instinctive and traditional dietetic knowledge possessed by the peasants and farmers of the past.
The objection may be raised that, owing to the wonderful progress of nutrition, the general mortality and the mortality among babies has greatly diminished. It is quite true that great changes have taken place. As regards the death rate among babies, we must remember that nowadays far fewer babies are born family than in the past, that the few are given greater attention than was given to the many and that, as regards the nutrition of babies, mothers milk has been, is an every will be, the finest and the most scientific food which can never be approached the scientific artificialities produced by science.
I do not wish my readers to believe that the science of dietetics is wholly responsible for the defects of our present nutrition. When the country people began to steam in millions into the towns in order to make a living in industry and trade, it became impossible for the messes of the people to obtain food directly from the soil in its fresh condition. It was necessary to preserve foodstuffs in some way or other and thus food producing industries arose.
Unfortunately with this changes came also the abandonment of the simple way of living of the past. People wished to live on the refined foods of civilization. It was considered vulgar to eat coarse wholemeal bread which was eaten by the peasantry. People of position felt it incumbent upon them to eat only the finest white bread and rolls, and, instead of living on plain, natural foods of every kind, people desired to eat those things which pleased the palate by their delicate taste and flavour, disregarding the need of the body for building-up foods.
The “new nutrition” was introduced about fifty or sixty years ago and doctor acted exactly as did laymen. They praised with enthusiasm the artificial baby foods produced by Soxhlet and other they took for gospel truth the pronouncement of dietetic specialists, such as Voit and Rubner. Nowadays the apparatus devised by Soxhlet for producing baby food will be found only in museums and the pronouncements of Voit and Rubner regarding the minimum of protein which men should consume are disregarded.
The time when food was valued according to its calories, its heating power, is gone. About twenty-five years ago the theories created by the calories men were overthrown by the discovery of vitamins and of the importance of balancing acids and alkalies in our food. Besides men discovered the value of those mineral element which the chemists of previous generations had contemptuously lumped together under the heading “Ash”.
A revolution is taking places in our conceptions and among those who have challenged the old ideas relating to the value of food there are those who go too far. There are fanatics and men who demand that we should live on raw food. They are idealists, and they are are not as dangerous as those business men who wish to coin the demand for better nutrition into money.
In view of the may contradictory views relating to our food and in view of the clamour raised by the different schools of nutrition, the general public naturally has become confuse. In a paper entitled “Changes in the Diet of the People”, Dr. Hans Wimmer tells his readers that the German working masses, notwithstanding national poverty and unemployment, eat now more meat and other foods rich in protein than they did in the past, while the rich and the well- to-do are consuming less protein than they did years ago.
I must question Wimmers assertion that the nutrition of the people in general has improved and that this has led to an improvement of the general health. I cannot see an improvement in the fact that, according to the statistics, consumption per head of meat, eggs, fat, butter and sugar has increased. Undoubtedly people get older than they use to do. This is due not so much to improved nutrition, but to thee improved protection against contagious diseases.
Most writers on nutrition endeavour to justify thee revolution which has taken place in our diet an hey seek to prove that the replacing of natural foods by artificial ones is useful or at least not harmful. They disregard the damage done to our foodstuffs by the chemists. They do not discuss the artificial bleaching of flour by harmful processes. The french nation, guided by far-seeing physicians, has succeeded in forcing the legislature to prohibit the bleaching of flour.
The various fats and oils use for making margarine are hardened with metals which in part remain in the margarine. In praising the advantages of tinned foods prepared in factories, writers carefully omit to mention that chemicals are generally added to the tinned foods which range from relatively harmless boric acid, salicylic, acid, and benzoic acid to virulently poisonous sulphate of copper.
I am a sceptic and regard with the gravest doubt the experiments and so-called “proofs” of dietetic specialists. They may show to me rats which are flourishing in the fifth generation on a diet composed of tinned foodstuffs, and they may send me learned treatises which are to prove that children can be made to flourish greatly on preserved vegetable and fruit. I refuse to believe it. No one will ever be able to convince me that preserved and tinned foods can be compared in any way with fresh food.
I have more confidence in my instinct than in the pronouncements of the professors. Fruit gathered from tree or bust is to more delicious the choicest artificially dyed, flavoured and preserved fruit, and I digest the former better than the latter. If I have put before me a dish of vegetables, my sense of taste will tell me at once whether they were freshly gathered or whether they come from a tin. All fresh food is infinitely superior to preserve food, however coloured and flavoured with the help of the chemist.
Vitamins were discovered twenty-five years ago. There may countless invaluable elements within the living plant of fruit, of which as yet we know nothing, elements which may be seriously diminished or totally destroyed in the process of preservation. Preserved foods should be used only in emergencies. We doctor and in fact all consumers rely for our guidance in matters dietetic far too much on the pronouncement of scientists instead of consulting our instinct and common sense.
Our instinct is destroyed when we listen to the professors. A short time ago I read a protest addressed to the competent authorities by farmers who complained that their cattle refused to eat hay grown in fields which had been fertilized with manure derived from the town drains.
Our analytical chemists have declared that food produced on fields so fertilized have exceptionally high nutritional value. We humans eat readily the vegetables raised by means of human excreta which cattle refuse, and we discover the risk only by the attitude of animals who refuse to touch such produce. Unfortunately dietetic teaching is dominated by laboratory men, cranks, and business men who wish to make money at all cost. That is a most undesirable and unwholesome state of affairs.