The oft-repeated words of Sir Henry Thompson must be heard many times more before we are all free from the evils here spoken of: "I have come to the conclusion that more than half of the disease that embitters the middle and latter part of life is due to avoidable errors in diet and that more mischief in the form of actual disease, of impaired vigor, and of shortened life accrues to civilized man in England and throughout central Europe from er-ronous habits of eating than from the habitual use of alcoholic drink, considerable as I know that habit to be. Speaking in general terms, man seems at the present time prone to choose foods which are unnecessarily concentrated, and too rich in nitrogenous or flesh-forming materials, and to consume more in quantity than is necessary for the healthy performance of the animal functions. Sick headaches and bilious attacks pursue their victims through half a lifetime, to be exchanged for gout, or worse, at or before climacteric, and so common are these evils that they are regarded by people in general as a necessary appendage of poor humanity. No notion can be more erroneous, since it is absolutely true that the complaints referred to are self-engendered, form no part of our physical nature, and for their existence are dependent almost entirely on our habits in relation to food and drink. As a rule, man has "little knowledge of, or interest in, the processes by which food is prepared for the table. Until a tolerably high standard of civilization is reached, he cares more for quantity than quality, desires little variety, and regards as impertinent an innovation in the shape of a new aliment, expecting the same food at the same hour daily."
This celebrated English physician intimates that after a high degree of civilization has been reached human beings prefer quality to quantity, and enjoy variety at different meals. According to the above statements, - and who can gainsay them? - the health and happiness of the people of America depend largely upon the wives and daughters in the different families. If, as we attend to selecting and preparing the food for daily meals, we can feel that we are accomplishing as much as can be done in any other way to insure health and happiness, we will certainly consider housekeeping a very exalted occupation.
Every one knows that the unused muscles of the body become weak and flabby, and that exercise which is too severe, if long continued, shows deleterious results. A person may be scrupulously neat and clean, and take just the proper amount of exercise in the open air, but he will not have well-developed muscles, and there will not be the glow of health on his face. He will not. have the powerful mind nature gave him the material for forming unless he so regulates his food and drink as to give all the internal organs regular exercise in proper amount. The digestive organs are just as certainly dwarfed by lack of exercise, and weakened by undue exercise, as the muscles on the outside of the body are.
It is not best that all foods be made just as easily digestible as possible. Such a course would impair the digestive organs by giving them too little work. On the other hand, no one would think of giving the family raw potatoes. This would be the other extreme. If there is an invalid in the family who needs predigested food, prepare special dishes for him for a time. Let him take a little of the normal food at each meal, if possible, and thereby gradually strengthen his weakened powers.
Every women who has catered to a large family knows how hard it is to prepare at each meal extra dishes, month after month, and year after year; but there is no better way. If the diet for the family is made to coincide with the requirements of the invalid, there will sooner or later be a family of invalids.
There is no better way of avoiding the excessive use of one sort of food than by varying the kinds served at different meals. Take, for example, meat which, when eaten in excess, produces very deleterious results. Instead of preparing meat for every meal, let eggs in some of the many ways in which they may be cooked, or eggs and cheese, which are so delicious, take their place. Use cod-fish or some other fish and there will probably not be a greater quantity consumed than the organs can care for. Children can often be kept from consuming one food in excess by serving a moderate quantity, and then giving them something else, and serving the first again after they have almost satisfied the appetite.
"As Heaven is not reached in a single bound, but we build the ladder by which we rise," so each housewife, instead of being discouraged by the many uncontrollable circumstances, should study the needs and idiosyncrasies of the different members of her family, and little by little help to make it impossible to call the American people a race of dyspeptics.
For a picked-up dinner, a soup containing considerable nutrition would be appropriate, as a puree of peas, or lentils, or a milk soup of some kind. A meat soup contains some little nutrition, but very little even when not accompanied by any cereal, as it has in it more or less protein, some gelatine, and some fat. Of course the use of a well-cooked cereal or nice soup sticks give an additional amount of nutriment.
Soup at the beginning of the meal serves two purposes: It is capable of furnishing more or less nutrition in an easily assimilated form. It in a measure quiets the nerves, allays the feeling of extreme hunger, and places one in a pleasant state of mind for enjoying his meal. With a simple broth nothing is needed, and it is better served without any addition when there is sufficient nutriment without this, as it gives opportunity for greater variety when it is needed. Soup sticks or a cereal, as rice, barley, or a paste of some kind, are nice with broth. For a dinner, the roast is supposed to give a sufficient amount of protein, and a light soup is best. When fish is used in a simple family dinner, the soup should be omitted. Let the vegetables which accompany the roast be such as are most palatable with it and with the soup. With mutton, turnips, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, rice, etc., taste well. They furnish the bulk of the carbohydrate (with potatoes) which the mutton, rich in protein, needs. It would no doubt be well for us to serve acid fruits with meats more than we do. With roast mutton, currant jelly, apple sauce or baked apples are very appetizing. Either apple sauce or baked apples are an addition to roast pork. These not only gratify the palate, but they furnish the system some of the acids which its welfare demands. When but two courses are used in a dinner, let those two be the roast, with its accompanying vegetables, and a salad. The system needs the vegetable as well as the fruit acids to keep it in a healthful condition. It would often be better for the family to dispense almost wholly with desserts, except that fruit or some light form of dessert may be used. Pies and puddings are very fruitful causes of the pernicious habit of overeating. In a lunch in!which a bean or lentil soup is used, tomatoes are a very acceptable veg-etable. They are pleasant with soup, and furnish the needed acid.
Broiled chicken, watercress, and creamed potatoes al-most make the mouth water at their mere mention, so plainly do they show that such a combination is the work of an artist. Onions seem to give to pork what it lacks in flavor. With turkey or chicken, stewed peaches, browned apples, or apple sauce may occasionally take the place of the accustomed cranberry sauce with good effect. With chicken or turkey, many vegetables harmonize well, as tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, hubbard squash, cold slaw, etc. Squash and corn, squash and peas, squash and beets should not appear on the bill of fare together.
In combining foods to suit the taste, we wish to produce a pleasing harmony or a happy contrast. Sliced cooked carrots, seasoned with salt, pepper, and vinegar, may be used with broiled fish, instead of sliced cucumbers, for the sake of variety. A little onion mixed with sliced cucumbers gives them a pleasing flavor. Many of these combinations cannot be made by the farmer's wife or daughter unless she can have the variety of foods to work with. The farmer has much to do with the cooking, and especially with the combination of foods. With the modern horse garden tools, and with the knowledge of good hardy and large yielding varieties of vegetables, berries, and other fruits which are now in reach of most farmers, there is no good excuse for such a lack of variety of foods as is sometimes found. These implements and better varieties, and this available knowledge of gardening, have greatly cheapened the price of vegetables and fruits to the town people. Gardens properly planted in rows, and cultivated largely with horse tools, will cheapen the berries and other luxurious necessities from the garden. Twenty dollars expended in a horse hoe, a hand wheel hoe, a garden seed drill, and a few good books on vegetables and fruit growing, is ofttimes a better investment than a new grain, binder, or even a threshing outfit. Always remember the garden, the need of a reasonable variety of food, and the weary woman who tries to make appetizing meals on the wheat farm, before spreading out on more land to be covered with mortgages and weeds.
The housewife on the farm finds it difficult to have much fresh meat during the summer, as she is often at some distance from the market. In winter it is an easy matter to have plenty of it at home, and she is not dependent on the market. On the farm during the summer there are plenty of nice salted meats of all kinds. Fresh-laid eggs are abundant. No one has better young chickens or finer-flavored fowls. There is plenty of pure sweet milk and golden June butter. A little codfish and salted fish in the storeroom leaves nothing to be desired in the line of meat. If the housewife has a good garden, plenty of small friuts, and a well-laden orchard, she needs just one thing more to enable her to feed her family in the most approved style, and that is an abundance of physical strength. For she has not only to provide for the present needs, but, like the ant, she must prepare for the winter that surely will come, when fruits and vegetables will be needed to give bulk to the otherwise too-concentrated diet.
References: U. S. Dept. Agr., Farmers' Bulletin No. 23, pp. 6-8, 12, 15; Univ. Minn., Chemical Division, Bulletin No. 54, p. 68; Feeds & Feeding - Henry - pp. 40, 41; U. S. Dept. Agr., Farmers' Bulletin No. 121; Food and Its Functions - James Knight; Disorders of Digestion - Dr. Burdon Sanderson. For a treatise on therapeutics, see Gilman Thompson's Food Dietetics, U. S. Dept. Agriculture, Division of Chemistry, Bulletin No. 13.