A great many elderly people say to me, 'I am too old to change'; only civility prevents me from saying to their face, 'I think you are quite wrong : it is never too late to mend. Many of the symptoms you suffer from would be immensely lessened if you did change.' As regards benefit, a great deal, of course, must depend on how much actual disease is already set up in the system, and in the case of old people it is even more important than with the middle-aged to avoid the crisis described above as depression and weakness. On the other hand, it should be remembered that at no other time of life is it so dangerous to overfeed and so little injurious to underfeed as in old age. I believe the time is not far distant when it may be discovered that the great cause of cancer is meat and salt, as leprosy is supposed to originate in eating salt fish in large quantities.
There are no doubt a few people whose healthy faces shine and beam when they tell you they can eat everything. They are seldom really ill, they have beautiful teeth and complexions, strong bright healthy hair, and their nerves are not overstrung. But I think everyone will admit that these people, in all classes, are distinctly rare in civilised Europe in this year of our Lord 1902. Also, if you question them closely, you will generally find that they take mineral waters, aperients, pain-killers, and various other drugs, and are frequently affected by changes of temperature, fatigue, missing a meal, east wind, &c.
Many people quote the Bible in favour of flesh foods, saying, 'If meat had been very injurious, one would expect to find some warning words advising people not to eat it.' According to this line of argument, vegetarians have been hardly used at finding no warning against the deadly nightshade of our damp meadows, or the poisonous berries of the potato which cost Sir W. Raleigh some pangs when he ate them by mistake on first discovering the plant.
In a letter I have received this morning from Dr. Haig in answer to things I had told him, I having been depressed at the little progress made by what I consider the new enlightenment, he says: ' I have now no doubt that the cause will succeed, and that success cannot be too great or come too soon, for there are to-day millions and millions of people who are suffering, dying, or becoming insane simply from ignorance.' I believe this opinion of Dr. Haig's will gain ground, and that twenty years will make an enormous difference in the understanding of everyone on the subject of food. Nowadays, if we see a man drunk, we are half angry and half sorry, but we do not require telling that he has taken too much alcohol to bring him to the state we see him in. I believe that, in course of time, the same knowledge will be ours with regard to right and wrong feeding and its obvious results.
I am fond of distributing Dr. Haig's leaflet, which explains most clearly that the xanthin of certain vegetable substances - peas, beans, lentils, mushrooms, asparagus, tea, coffee, cocoa - is the equivalent poison to uric acid in fish and flesh. Apropos of this latest discovery in the chemistry of food, I was amused to come across the following the other day in that very popular book of Mr. Marion Crawford, 'The Rulers of the South': 'Hallam says somewhere that mankind has generally required some ceremonial follies to keep alive the wholesome spirit of association. It is hard to say now how many of the curious rules of life adopted by the Pythagorean brotherhood should be traced to this motive, and many of these contain more wisdom than appears in them at first sight. The brethren abstained from eating flesh, as most mystics have done, but they were as careful never to eat beans.' So many of our most modern inventions were known to the ancients that I feel the reason for the Pythagorean rule 'abstain from the bean' is quite as likely to have been due to a knowledge of its harmful properties in dietetics as to a dread of that life of political intrigue which was symbolised by the bean used by the Greeks in balloting.
An amusing instance came to me lately of how little these leaflets are understood even by intelligent and educated people, when a father wrote to me as follows: ' A cowardly thought arose in my mind of submitting the leaflet to a friend of mine who is obliged by circumstances to devote much attention to his inside, but unhappily in an unguarded moment I remarked to Mrs. G., in the presence of the most intelligent of our cats, "I am surprised that you should provide so much fish for the household, when you know Mrs. Earle's leaflet says that fish positively reeks with xanthin." I don't know how the leaflet which riots in that particular subject of organic chemistry came to be torn into little bits, but for me it disposes of the subject altogether, which is too abstruse for the man in the street, and needs an expert to confirm or deny. "Xanthin" may be as real as "microbes," but is equally invisible, and I have my doubts about the whole lot of scientific conclusions based upon these insects or fish or whatever they are.'so carelessly had the leaflet been read that my correspondent can talk of the xanthin in fish!
A curious case of the effects of the harm the Salisbury cure has brought about in unintelligent hands was told me the other day by a friend. His mother-in-law lost her teeth, and her gums were too tender to admit of artificial aid. She therefore took pulped meat, often three pounds a day, and strong soups. Between the age of fifty and sixty she became very ill, and a great London specialist was sent for. After seeing her he took the son-in-law aside and said, ' All her symptoms point to a secret store of alcohol. Are you quite certain this is not the case ?' Both the son-in-law and the servants were quite certain that she had nothing of the kind. She did not even take wine. But it is interesting to note that the stimulating meat-juices had produced the same symptoms as drink, accompanied by great exhilaration and depression. At sixty she died of starvation, with no organic disease at all.