A most potent cause of death in crowded communities is by degeneration in its modern sense - abnormal physique due to bad development of an unstable organism. It was once taught that degeneration was the special property of higher races in modern times, but history shows that it has always existed, and my own observations among Malays and Chinese show that an enormous number of them are degenerate. The details do not concern us here, but we may remark that the anomalies called stigmata, which are far more common in the degenerate than among the normal, are very common in lower races. For instance, the large number of Albinos among the Zuni Indians - a fast-dying remnant of a once powerful tribe, migrated from a distant home, shows degeneration in its modern sense, that is, people living close to nature can degenerate, and modern civilized habits (away from nature, as it were) are not any more potent causes of degeneration than changes in natural environment. In the majority of cases of degeneration the cause is, no doubt, found in the inability to secure sufficient nourishment, and the chief defect is in the animal or nitrogenous foods. In the Philippines the conditions causing the dreadful infant mortality are mainly those of underfeeding. As long as they are at the breast they are hearty and well, but as soon as weaned the trouble begins, for milk cannot be obtained and the chief diet is rice. Anemia is universal, and they fall victims of any infection which comes along. They are gelatinous and wholly lacking in the strong fiber of the nitrogen-fed babies. No wonder so many become degenerates. It fully explains the abnormal physique of the Chinese coolie class so different from the normal of the well-fed upper classes. Indeed, there are enormous numbers of degenerates among the lower classes in every crowded tropical country.
There is much more than a suspicion that the fetal deformities which so often puzzle us to find the cause, and which are commonly ascribed to maternal shocks, are in reality due to defective vitality from improper nourishment. The ovum is not sufficiently strong to develop properly, and any tiny cause will then deflect it from its proper course or check its development.
The whole matter of the defective classes springing from the slums is being looked upon in the light of deficiency of nitrogen food. It is the same as in the lower animals, for experiments in this line can produce deformities, as Ch. Fere has shown in France. We can now come nearer home to find the same conditions. In the British Medical Journal (April 4, 1903), there is a notable article proving that a great deal of the damage done in the overpressure of modern schools, and the consequent degeneration of urban population, is really due to nitrogen starvation of the children. School dietaries in France and England as a rule, show deficiency of nitrogenous food, the girls in particular being underfed. Dr. Clement Dukes, a great authority on such matters, says that schoolboys require meat twice daily, and that when this nitrogen is deficient petty misdemeanors increase in proportion to the deficiency. Dr. Wm. Hall, of Hillside, Headingley, near Leeds, in England, has found that underfeeding is appalling among poor Gentile school children, though Jewish children of even the poorest classes, are better fed. He started a crusade to compel the parents or the State to feed these little starvelings, but so great is the prejudice in the popular mind that there is no such thing as overpopulation and consequent underfeeding, that he was violently opposed by the two professions which should be anxious to help him - clergymen and teachers. The former claim that the soul alone needs help, and the latter that the mind is the thing to assist. Doctor Hall teaches that the brain will not grow unless fed, and the mind (or sum total of the functions of the brain) will be in better shape for the teacher's work if there is a good well-fed brain. We can refer to the dreadful starvation of school children, mentioned in a prior chapter, but merely to mention that nitrogen is the main defect and that the condition is found in every big city of the world in which it has been investigated. No wonder there is such a demand to feed these children who are growing up into defectives to bother future society. It is now shown in New York by the physical examination of graduates of the public schools who are applying for teachers' certificates, that they are woefully underfed and undeveloped - many, indeed, being physically unfit to teach. In all cases so far as known, it is a defect of nitrogen.
The starvation dietaries of Europe, which some physiologists want us to adopt, are the real causes of the small stature of many of these races. Anthropologists have long ago proved this, and shown also that as soon as these races are better fed the next generations are markedly bigger. It is the commonest thing in America to see large, well-fed native-born citizens whose parents were little, undersized peasant immigrants who had been half starved from infancy, as their ancestors had been probably for many generations. Several of our famous big pugilists are illustrations of this law. From what has preceded, we now see that all this lack of growth is really a nitrogen starvation. The undersized peasant really did not have sufficient nitrogen in youth to build up his tissues, though he had plenty of carbon for fuel.
The Japanese also concluded that their diminutive stature could be remedied, as it was due to underfeeding. Systematic attempts have been made in the direction of a better dietary, with the remarkable result in one decade of a decided increase of the percentage of conscripts who were tall enough to enter the army* Similarly it has been found that in some districts of Germany, particularly Southern Baden, the peasantry once so robust, have deteriorated from nitrogen starvation so greatly that large numbers are too defective for military service. The same phenomenon has been found in England, and has caused very great apprehension as to the future of the nation.
Although per capita meat consumption does not give the actual nitrogen food, yet it is a fair index because in the absence of meat the people must resort to foods containing less nitrogen. By some statistics published by the Agricultural Department, it is found that in 1840 meats constituted about one-half our dietary, whereas in 1906 they are only one-third. Not only are we exporting what we need ourselves, but the number of men has increased much more than the meat-producing live stock - a process which is still going on, and in a short time, if no new factors enter, there will not be enough meat to go round, and we will be as meatless as the rest of the world.
The per capita consumption of meat is calculated to be as follows:
* New York Times, May 6, 1906.
From the countries at the foot of the list there is a constant emigration to those at the top to escape nitrogen starvation.