The question often asked me, and which moves me most, is what I recommend for the feeding of children. There is no doubt that the strongest argument which can be used against drunkenness and debauchery is the hereditary effect it has on children. Doctors now say that the children of confirmed smokers are far sooner injured by smoking themselves than the children of very moderate or non-smokers. It seems to me that this may be an explanation of the younger generation of the present day being so much more quickly and harmfully affected by tea than we were. Both coffee and tea have got much cheaper, and their use has been immensely promoted by the preaching of the teetotallers. Clergymen's wives, nurses, and all classes of over-worked women and men of the conscientious type, who would repudiate the help given to them by a glass of beer, habitually stimulate and injure their nerves by excessive tea-drinking. I think there is no doubt that Indian and Ceylon tea are more injurious than even the poor quality Chinese which is sold in England to-day. This may be an additional explanation of the increased nervous disease among the poor, who love the rank flavour of the cheap Indian teas, and stew them long to extract all the goodness. Let people who doubt this try leaving off tea for a few months, and then see how it affects them on taking to it again. One of the strongest arguments for tea-drinking is that the Chinese have drunk it for centuries and remain what they are. I sat at dinner the other evening, next an Englishman who had lived many years in China. I soon began to question him as to how far he thought the tea-drinking in China had been injurious to the natives. He said that, so far as he had ever been able to ascertain, he thought that it was absolutely harmless, but this probably from the way they made it. A small pinch of sun-dried leaves - just as much as they could take up between the finger and thumb - was put into a small cup, boiling water poured on it, the cup covered up with its saucer for a minute or two, and the infusion drunk when it had cooled. It was then scarcely more than hot water with a slight flavour of tea. Besides the harmlessness of this mixture, no doubt the Chinese are better able to take tea through never having reduced their strength and created complicated diseases by centuries of excessive meat-eating and alcohol. For poison from the European way of tea-drinking, as from excessive smoking or drinking of alcohol, is supposed to be hereditary and is consequently more quickly injurious in the second or third generation. If this is so, surely the consideration and study of the effects that food has on the body is in no sense a ridiculous or degrading subject. So many people say, 'It is so unworthy always to be talking or thinking about food or health.' Their one wish is laughingly to put it aside and shift the responsibility of their own and their children's health on to the shoulders of the doctors, not even taking the trouble to learn what the modern advertisements try to teach them, viz. which foods are digested in the upper stomach and which in the lower, or that constipation is the commonest proof of indigestion.
This question of the diet for children seems to me to be full of difficulty, and I should say cannot be undertaken without the consent of the father.This he is not the least likely to give unless he has studied the subject enough to wish to adopt it for himself as well as for his children.The first object of ambition to an intelligent boy or girl is to try toimitate father, and if heconstantly throws brickbats at dieting the case is hopeless. I am sure in a few years the great school difficulty will be much lessened, and that if a boy is anxious to continue his regular home food, there will in time be a house for non-stimulating diet at Eton.One of the keenest vegetarians I know succeeded in converting her daughter who was out of health, but had no effect on her son-in-law or her grandchildren.Where father and mother are agreed, I think the experiment of bringing up children as vegetarians may fairly be tried, though probably even those parents hardly realise the difficulties before them.A great deal will depend on how they can train their children mentally. In any case, in the present state of things, the parents canhardly evergoaway from home together for any length of time, or to a distance which prevents their quick return, as the children ought not to be left to the sole care of even the best of nurses.She cannot be expected not to send for a doctor the moment anything goes wrong, and he in turnwould,fromwantof practiceamong vegetarians, fail to understand thesensitiveness of the children.The nurse would have no weight in explaining to him the wishes of the parents; whereas if the parents were present probably the doctor would not interfere with the diet. The plain truth is that it all resolves itself into a question of character and knowledge in the parents. When a doctor finds that he has to deal with men and women who have taken the pains to acquaint themselves with the elements of physiology and the chemistry of food, his tone is very different from the one he uses, naturally enough, to the young and ignorant mother who appeals to him to make her sick child well, as if he worked by miracle, and who submits to be told by him that if she brings up her children on a non-meat diet she is 'a very wicked woman.'
My object in repeating these things so often is that radical changes in diet can only be brought about by the public, and children are not likely to take to what their parents and elders do not practise; though if the parents are non-meat-eaters the consequences of home example may act powerfully in this, as in other matters, when they grow to man's and woman's estate. One case, at least, I know where the diet has been successfully carried through school and college and joining a regiment, where the young man was looked upon as rather a curiosity, but was left unmolested.