Returning from London, in February this year, where I had caught a cold in the head which never laid me up for an hour, I fancied I was a little less well. A friend sent me the American Dr. E. H. Dewey's book, 'A New Era for Women' - his text being Herbert Spencer's words : 'If there were no eating without hunger, and no drinking without thirst, then would the system be but seldom out of working order.' The book is full of useful information, his panacea being the abolition of breakfast and eating nothing till 12 or 1 o'clock. Out of curiosity I tried this for ten days with the same kind of benefit that I used to feel in old days when I took a tonic that suited me. I did not continue it for the same reasons which prevent my doing several things that I believe would be better for me - the unsociability, and finding that I got too hungry by 1.30, the luncheon hour, which I could not conveniently change. I think a great many people who live on the ordinary food, and have eaten a large dinner the night before, will find benefit from cutting off breakfast altogether, or, at any rate, diminishing it.
My great difficulty is when I pay visits, but as they seldom last for more than a week or ten days, and I have the courage to ask for servants' cheese even of the swellest butler, and as change of air always gives me an appetite, I generally come home feeling better than I went, whether I have underfed or not. This is the case even if I have eaten fish once or twice - boiled fish, one of my remaining temptations, seeming to me one of the most harmless of uric-acid-containing foods. This term, uric acid, I find is bewilderingly mystifying to most of my friends, who seem to think it is a medical glorification of ordinary acidity. So far as I understand it, it is a necessarily component part of our body, but 75 per cent, of modern human beings have an excess of it. Every bit of flesh food, including fish and eggs, contains a certain portion of this substance, of which we have already too much; therefore the very facility with which we digest it adds to its injuriousness, while its tonic properties add to its attractiveness.
One of the questions I am constantly asked is, 'Why may we not follow our instincts, and eat light foods in summer and meat in winter? 'I should answer: Because I believe that many of our eating and drinking instincts, not coming from that actual healthy hunger which finds dry, good bread and plain water a delicious repast, are on the level of the inebriate's desire for alcohol. Given that we are underfeeding, we need more nourishment - i.e., food containing albumen or proteid - in hot weather than in cold, when we lead, as a rule, much more sedentary lives, and take much less out of ourselves. What many people call 'natural' is often most 'artificial,' and generally wrong. All my generation were brought up to think that beef-tea and porfc-wine were naturally essential to fight the weakness consequent upon illness and fever; now, except in very remote country districts, beef-tea is never ordered except as a substitute for brandy - i.e., stimulant without nourishment.
It is no small compliment to what is expected of diet that many people who have been ill or ailing for years under the ordinary regimen, and with the advice of various physicians, when they visit Dr. Haig, and begin his methods, express great anger if not instantly better, and instead of returning to give him the chance of changing his prescription - viz., readjusting the diet - throw up the whole system in disgust as a failure. This is, of course, most unreasonable. The other cause of anger against Dr. Haig is that he changes the details of the dietary he recommends. At first he had to accept, as all doctors do, the conclusions of others as to the constituents of food; and in consequence he recommended the pulses - peas, beans, and lentils. Further personal experience and first-hand investigation convinced him that these and a few other vegetable substances - as asparagus, tea, coffee, cocoa, and mushrooms - contained a poison differing but slightly from, and in no way less injurious than, the animal poison of uric acid. To me, changes in detail, round a central idea, are the greatest proof of intellectual growth.
A vegetarian friend has related to me the explanation of the well-known story which goes the round of London, and is cited by doctors when asked by patients if they shall try Dr. Haig's diet, or consult him for rheumatism. The story is that when Dr. Haig read a paper on flesh-eating as the cause of rheumatism, before a medical congress some years ago, a member present asked a question which 'floored him' - viz., why rheumatism was prevalent in many countries where no flesh was eaten? The immediate answer did not occur to Dr. Haig, as he had not then carried his researches far enough to know that the pulses - peas, beans, lentils - and other vegetable sub-stances, as tea, coffee, &c, contain even more uric-acid -producing poison than meat itself. The question, however, set him to work on those foods, with the result that he soon discovered the full answer to the question, and published it. This important point seems to have escaped the notice of those members of the profession who content themselves with telling only the first half of the story, which gives an inaccurate and unfair impression. I myself have often been asked why horses get rheumatism. My answer has always been, 'Too many oats'; for years ago, from his study of animals while soldiering in wild countries, my husband used to tell me that excess of cereal foods, with their high percentages of acid salts, caused rheumatism in horses unless well balanced by fresh green foods.
I have found that my difficulties in wishing to provide my guests with what they like to eat have been immensely increased of late years. As long as one's friends are mixed feeders, a great variety of diet is necessary. The best solution has seemed to me that the invalids should have their meals apart, and that in mixed company there should be three side-tables. On one of these, soup, fish, meat, and vegetables; on another, farinaceous foods and stewed fruits, Plasmon and other biscuits; and on another, fresh raw fruits and nuts. The great thing is to reduce courses and to serve dinners more as luncheons or suppers, everything being brought in at the same time This helps to disguise what people eat, and what they don't eat. Cheese is always offered with the salad to those who do not eat meat. I have no wish to be extravagant and give dainties which no one will eat, and a whole dinner of soup, fish, two meats and a sweet, for one or two people, while the rest eat only some vegetarian food, is rather obviously uncomfortable not only for the hostess but for the guest - and I confess a general tone of abstinence, and desire to prove indifference to food and drink, have greatly increased in my house in the last few years. This is in a measure due, no doubt, to people's kindness of heart and friendliness towards an old woman with a crank ; for I know my sons have often been condoled with on the excessive pity it is that their mother has gone mad on the food question, the speaker putting it down, no doubt, to nervous depression from starvation, or failure from old age.