I am always supposed to be proselytising, and last year I sent to an old friend, a middle-aged schoolmaster, Mr. Miles' ' Better Food for Boys.' He says in reply: .'have read and thought over Miles' book. It seems to me that the question is mainly a medical one.' This sentence epitomises what so many think and feel, and when I say, 'But apparently the medical profession refuse to give the matter serious thought and experiment,' this closes all discussion, and I am looked upon as a prejudiced idiot. This I try to bear with the philosophic calm of a non-meat-eater.He writes further: 'To a layman there is much in what Miles says, and for a large number of adults - for any adult, in fact, who leads a sedentary life, I believe his system is beneficial. I am following it myself in moderation - that is to say, I have knocked off meat meals and substituted Plasmon for them, and already dread the idea of sitting down to a big dinner. But if the practice becomes general, what a blow it will be to the social side of life ! You can't seriously sit down to rice and stewed fruit with half a dozen friends.'
My friend's despair about the social side being reduced to stewed prunes and rice is very much as if he invited his friends to cold shoulder of mutton and potatoes. For festive occasions endless combinations and much luxury, attractive to all the senses, could be made. Even for the severest stage of diet- the fruitarian - if a housekeeper spends half what she does on fish, game, poultry, &c, for a dinner-party, she might have the most gorgeous and attractive display of the best fruits to be had in any market, and a cook once trained to the food would produce endless dainty varieties of cakes, biscuits, nut-creams, and rolls. These people who think that the social side of life must suffer with the disappearance of meat from our tables seem to forget that cereals, fruits, and wineare the foods which the highest imagination of man has always thought the most fit for the feasts of the Gods, a detail eagerly seized upon by Burne-Jones for representation in his famous picture on that subject.
To go back to my letter: my friend says, 'I cannot persuade myself that the health of boys suffers from a meat diet. They do not, as a rule, overload the stomach and take strenuous exercise. Of course, it may fairly be said that if you bring boys up on meat they will be less likely to take to the simpler foods later on. But there are great difficulties in the way. Miles' diet cannot be made compulsory, and at a big school two systems cannot well be worked, but I think schoolmasters might do much good by example and by preaching. That is the line I follow. The question which the author raises in his opening chapter is of the utmost importance, but there, again, only a doctor is qualified to give an opinion. Is sensuality less developed in gramnivorous animals than in the carnivorous ? I doubt it. Plasmon is becoming popular with doctors. I am convinced that any baddish rheumatic or gouty tendencies would be the better for it.' I should like to say to this last sentence that this attitude towards Plasmon of thinking it a ' cure ' for rheumatism and gout is as dangerous as it is prevalent. In itself this valuable preparation is no cure ; it is a highly-concentrated proteid food, which enables people to leave off the alcohol, and the uric-acid-forming foods they have been used to. The allusion to animals seems to me rather wide of the mark. All Nature, even in flowers as described in the botanical language which I have known to shock prudish mothers, is apparently wasteful; but, as I understand it, the word sensuality implies a moral conception - i.e. the antithesis of self-control, and this is a province with which Nature in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms has nothing whatever to do. What I suppose my friend really means to ask is, whether sex vigour is less in gramnivorous animals than in carnivorous? Had he thought for a moment, it would probably have come to his mind that the bull and the goat are almost proverbially used in art and literature to express this vigour rather than the lion and tiger. In Mr. Miles' books there are frequent allusions to the point, which is always puzzling schoolmasters, as to how to increase physical strength with moral self-control. Schoolmasters solve the difficulty by incessant games, to the detriment of learning. Mr. Miles' solution is non-stimulating food and drink.
I was pleased to see that my friend sympathised with me about the facility of carrying out the diet in old age, and the benefit of teaching by example.
One advantage of taking to a diet of simpler food late in life is that it lessens to a great degree the family and social opposition, which from the kindest of reasons is almost universal. Abstinence in old age is looked upon as rather a virtue by the young, but when practised by their own contemporaries they consider it as a sign of eccentricity, affectation, love of notoriety, or extreme bad health. This being so, I find that diet looms as an insuperable obstacle with the young. Their experience being nil, their knowledge is weak; the diet is often badly managed, the worry is great, and unless the improvement in health is rapid, as in several cases I have known it to be, they lose heart and prefer bad health under a doctor to trying to cure themselves against the approval of relations and friends. No one but an actual invalid, for instance, can stand having to change the hours of meals instituted by our modern civilisation. Unless we are actually ill enough to give in, we must live according to the divisions of the day which suit the occupations of the various members of our family. These change with passing fashions, and, for aught we know, our grand-childrenmay dineatQueenAnne'shour, which was To a bachelor athlete like Mr. Miles, or a curate in the wilds of the country, it seems no hardship, and there is no pulling of the heartstrings in living on Plasmon and fruit; but think of the young wife whose tired husband comes home at 7 p.m. after making, or trying to make, money for her, and finds that she has had her meal of dry bread and nuts and fruit at 6 p.m., and, however affectionately disposed, can only sit and watch him drink his hot soup and eat his daintily-cooked chicken, winding up with iced fruit and cream. The situation is really harrowing, and yet Dr. Haig says one of the best divisions of meals for dyspeptics is 11 and 6. These used to be the French hours for everybody, but that custom is now so entirely changed that when we come across it in hotels our home habits cause us to think the division tiresome and in-convenient. Many husbands might submit to this in their own homes; but a still greater difficulty and irritation arises when the couple go from Saturday to Monday to friends in the country, where the tables groan with luxuries of every kind, and the wife finds it difficult to eat anything, for she has not the courage to ask for milk and cheese, and, the bread being uneatable from newness and baking-powder, she has to wait till the end of dinner for fruit, and suddenly realises, when she is at last eating her grapes, that the mistress of the house is dying to leave the table. I remember well years ago a vegetarian of some distinction who used to dine at our house, and invariably emptied the dessert-dish that happened to be in front of him, whatever it contained. It used, then, to cause me considerable suppressed irritation, but we change so that he has now all my sympathy, and I often long to do it myself. Even with the help of summer vegetables, such as peas and beans, which are dangerous food to those with weak digestions, the young wife has been absolutely starved, and feels it all the more as, being an amateur vegetarian, she will probably, in nine cases out of ten, be underfed and have no reserves to fall back upon in emergency. Even if she has read Dr. Haig's leaflets, or Mr. Miles' lists of food values, she will most likely have done so without the real comprehension which would enable her to apply the facts to her individual case. She might be able to get more bulk of food at an ordinary table, but is perhaps prevented from taking it by the haunting fear of getting fat, which I find among nearly all young people of the present day. Obesity is, of course, disease, and I believe is more easily cured by the diet than in any other way, for when I began it I lost two stone in six months; but plumpness, especially for women, is natural and healthy, and the vanity of wishing to be thin, which has been so encouraged by the Pre-Raphaelite School of Art with its unhealthy ideal of beauty, still holds its sway and accounts for much nervous disease among women. It is undeniable that the serpentine clothes of the present day look best on a thin peg, but on the whole there is no doubt in my mind that health comes before everything, and for a girl or woman whom Nature means to be fat, to diet herself thin, no matter by what means, is an exceedingly dangerous process which may cause many sufferings and complications, and even end in disease, and is quite as foolish as the efforts of the frog to swell itself to the size of an ox. At the same time, when I am told - as I often am - ' I should so like to take to your delightful diet of vegetables, only it would make me grow so fat,' by people who take butter and cream two or three times a day, in addition to a rich ordinary diet, I cannot help being amused, knowing how easily Dr. Haig's diet can be regulated for fat people.