"This is the age of education, when mothers of all classes strive to give their sons and daughters every educational advantage they can afford. The man or the woman who knows one subject well has an asset which makes for success, and the child who is taught a language thoroughly has something invariably useful to him in after life. It is a remarkable fact, therefore, that the most useful " accomplishment " that the mother can herself teach the child is frequently neglected.
The art of chewing requires nothing in the shape of expensive training or teachers beyond ones means. And yet it is, from many points of view, the most valuable accomplishment that a child can be given. Leisurely eating, ever since Fletcher and his followers propounded their gospel of mastication, has been recognised by most people as a health measure of great importance. A well-known doctor recently said that it mattered not a bit what people ate if they knew how to chew their food.
Now the average child must be taught mastication as he is taught music, mathematics, or the German tongue. Left to himself, he will bite half a potato in two, and swallow it at express speed. There is something strenuous in the ordinary schoolboy 's consumption of an apple, which it takes him perhaps two minutes to dispose of, skin and all. I think it was Fletcher himself who declared that he spent three-quarters of an hour hard at work in eating an apple. Mr. Gladstone is quoted as one of the first men who expounded publicly the theory that proper mastication was the secret of health and long life. Thirty-two bites to every mouthful of food was his rule, and he was himself a splendid example of the gospel he preached.
Children should be taught from the beginning a few simple physiological facts about digestion. The mother who has read the article on page 360, Part 3, can quite well teach her family all that is necessary. She knows that digestion begins in the mouth, and that if the food is not chewed the seeds of dyspepsia are laid, because the stomach is over-worked.
In the second place, the child should be taught that the best way to preserve the teeth from decay is to use the jaws for the work Nature intends them to do. Pre-historic man had splendid teeth, because he was compelled to chew the uncooked meats and vegetable foods, the rough-and-ready menus of simple life.
Civilised man's teeth decay before he is grown up, because he is fed on soft food and not taught how to chew.
Proper chewing, in the third place, improves the shape of the face, because the muscles of the cheeks and jaw are exercised as they ought to be. Many children suffer from dyspepsia from the artificial conditions of modern life. Overpressure at school, and insufficient outdoor life, are two reasons for this; whilst the soft, well-cooked foods of civilisation do not compel the teeth and jaws to work as they should.
The ordinary child probably expends six chews upon each spoonful of porridge. He has to be taught gradually, by suggestion and example, that each bite of food should have at least twenty to thirty chews. The earlier the practice of mastication is begun, the more easily is the good habit established. We can begin at any age-in the schoolroom or, better still, in the nursery.
The first thing is for the mother to observe carefully each of her children in turn. Note how they bite and swallow their food. She will probably find great differences among them, and the child who eats leisurely, chews well, and does not hurry through meals has the best chance of health in the future. Then have a little talk with the children about digestion. Tell them how the starches begin to be digested in the mouth, and how Nature has provided us with teeth and jaws to break the food up into small particles. Interest the children in your lesson, and they will soon find that the taste of the food is immeasurably improved by mastication.
By practising day after day at every meal the habit of leisurely eating is gradually established. Once this has been really acquired, a child will unconsciously and automatically chew his food easily and naturally. Think of what the acquired habit means to the child in after life. In all probability immunity from dyspepsia, because the great cause of indigestion is improperly chewed food. This means, indirectly, a saving of energy and money, and happiness also, because the dyspeptic is hampered in work, irritable and unhappy, and constantly spending money on drugs and doctors' bills. It means also that the teeth are preserved because increased action of the jaws brings healthy blood to the part, so that the teeth are better nourished and do not decay.
The advocates of chewing declare also that their plan is an economical one, because less food requires to be taken, and at the same time more nourishment is absorbed into the body.
There is no doubt that many thin children and little sufferers from dyspepsia would be immensely benefited if their mothers would teach them the art of mastication. Preach the gospel of chewing at every meal. Encourage the children to persevere after the first novelty has worn off, and you will find that improved health in the nursery will result; whilst the consciousness that you have taught the children something which will affect their welfare in the future will reward you.