Those who have studied the dietaries of different people tell us that well-to-do professional men and students in America consume much larger portions of muscle-forming foods than are found necessary to well-nourished men of the same class in Europe. Shall we continue to feed ourselves unwisely because we live in a land of plenty, or shall we let reason regulate our diet and be blessed with sound bodies and unclouded intellects? Prof. Atwater says: "Taking results as they are, they very decidedly confirm the general impression of hygienists that our diet is one-sided, and that we eat too much. This is due partly to our large consumption of sugar, and partly to our use of such large quantities of meat."
A diet composed too largely of meat tends to produce acid fluids in the body. The gastric juice, acid in its normal state, becomes more acid. The saliva, normally alkaline, becomes acid. The result often is disease, brought about by these unnatural conditions. There are foods which produce the opposite effect.
Under the general term "meat" may be included fish, as well as other animals the flesh of which is used for food.
In some localities, fish is a cheaper source of protein than meat. It always forms a pleasant variety, as well as a nourishing food. The belief that fish is a fine brain food no longer has credence. Analyses have shown it not universally richer in phosphorus than other animal flesh. Neither is there any evidence that persons using fish instead of meat have greater brain power. The nutritive value of fish, like other foods, depends upon the digestibility. Experiments so far have shown it to be about like meat in this respect. The fatter fish, and especially where the fat is mingled with the lean, are more difficult of digestion than those containing less oil. Cod, haddock, perch, pike, and bluefish are some of the leaner fish, while salmon, shad, and mackerel belong to the other class.
Analyses show that lobsters, crabs, shrimps, etc., contain some nutrients, but these and oysters must always be regarded as delicacies, over the greater portion of the world, on account of the difficulty of obtaining them fresh and at a reasonable price. According to the data recently collected by the United States Fish Commissioner, more than a billion pounds of fish are taken annually in the United States waters, and mostly consumed at home, yet people in the inland towns and cities seldom have a really delicious fish, except when they visit the lakes in summer, so quickly do fish lose their finest flavor. There is a difference in the flavors of fresh and salt-water fish. Which is better, depends entirely upon individual taste. The price of fish in the market depends on several things. Fish from clear, deep, cool water are preferable to those which inhabit water that is shallow and warm, and they consequently command a higher price. Water which flows over a rocky and sandy bottom contains fish preferable to those which inhabit a stream having a muddy bottom. Some fish are considered very poor or unfit for food during the spawning season, but shad are at their best at this time. The manner in which fish are taken also affects their food value very materially. Where gill nets are used, and the fish die slowly in the water, they decompose readily, and are very inferior. When fish are thrown upon the land, and allowed to die slowly, the result is the same. They should, in all cases, be killed immediately, both because it is more humane, and on account of the food value. Fish may be bought in the market either whole or dressed. It is better to buy those from which the entrails and scales have been removed. There will probably be less nutritive material lost if the remainder of the dressing is done at home. According to good authorities, fish lose from ten to fifty per cent, of their weight in their preparation for cooking, the amount lost depending upon the size of the fish. Fish preserved by salting, smoking, and drying, or by a combination of these ways, can always be obtained well preserved, but the flavor, of course, is changed. Salt fish must be kept under brine. When wished for use, they should be soaked in plenty of cold water, skin side up. The water should be changed several times. After such treatment, they are very palatable when cooked. Finnan haddie (a dried fish) is best washed clean and braised, or stewed in sweet milk. Codfish requires a little different treatment still. Dried fish weigh much less than fresh fish, owing to the evaporation of water. The loss ranges from fifty to sixty per cent., or more, according to whether the fish are boned. Large quantities of fish are canned each year. Most fish are canned in their own juices; the flavor of the fresh fish is thus largely retained, and they will keep indefinitely before the can is opened.
The clam juice and fish extracts offered for sale have little or no food value, but are, no doubt, beneficial in some cases. Preservatives are probably used in some cases in shipping fish and oysters, but their use is not desirable because of their harmful results. Laws have recently been passed in some states preventing the use of preservatives in various food products.
*"Ptomaines are poisonous bodies due to the action of micro-organisms. They are chemical compounds of definite composition, and are elaborated by micro-organisms breaking down the complex ingredients of animal tissue, just as alcohol is due to the action of yeasts breaking down sugar, or as acetic acid is due to the action of mycoderma acetic breaking down alcohol. The formation of ptomaines quite generally - although not always - ac-companies putrefaction (often in its early stages), and therefore great care should be taken to eat fish only when it is in perfectly good condition. Fish which has been frozen, and after thawing kept for a time before it is cooked, is especially likely to contain injurious ptomaines.
*U. S. Dept. Agr., Bulletin No. 85.
"Canned fish should never be allowed to remain long in the can after opening, but should be used at once. There is some possibility of danger from the combined action of the can contents, and the action of the air upon the solder of the can itself. Furthermore, canned fish seems peculiarly suited to the growth of micro-organisms when exposed to the air.
"Finally, fish offered for sale should be handled in a cleanly manner, and stored and exposed for sale under hygienic conditions.
"Oysters, when 'floated' or 'fattened,' should never be placed in water contaminated with sewage, as such contains typhoid fever germs, or other harmful material. It is only just to say that the dangers from parasites, micro-organisms, ptomaines, and uncleanly surroundings are not limited to fish. Under the conditions which favor the growth of micro-organisms, meat and other highly nitrogenous animal foods undergo decomposition resulting in the formation of ptomaines. Animal parasites may be acquired from flesh of various kinds, if not thoroughly cooked, provided, of course, the flesh is infected. This danger is reduced by proper inspection. Vegetable foods may also become contaminated in various ways. The importance of measures to secure pure and wholesome food can hardly be overstated. The best interests of the people undoubtedly demand a strict and impartial supervision by public officers of the sale of food products."
"In view of statements of a popular nature which have been made on the dangers from eating poisonous fish, or from ptomaines contained in fish, a few words summarizing the actual knowledge on these topics seems desirable. There are several species of fish which are actually poisonous. Few of them, however, are found in the United States, and the chances of their being offered for sale are very small. Such fish are mostly confined to tropical waters. Fish may contain parasites, some of which are injurious to man. These are, however, destroyed by the thorough cooking to which fish is usually subjected."*
Small fish are usually preserved in oil, and are often broiled and served on toast at luncheons.
Herring are usually either pickled or kippered, - that is, salted and dried. Herring, sprat, and Yarmouth bloaters - all small fish - are used for relishes.
Anchovies are small fish, caught in great numbers in the Mediterranean Sea. They can be had pickled or preserved in oil, or in the form known as anchovy paste or butter. The whole fish are used as relishes, and served in a similar manner to those spoken of before. The paste is used in making sandwiches and sauces.
Lobsters are usually found in our markets boiled. Like the rest of the fish family, they have the best flavor when killed soon after leaving the water. Professional lobster cookers boil them immediately after they are taken from the water. When bought alive, they should be very lively.
Shrimps are usually found in the northern markets cooked. They are generally shelled also; lobsters are not.
Prawns are much like shrimps, but larger and coarser. All three are used in soups, salads, and sauces. Crawfish are usually sold in the shell, and are used for bisques, and for garnishing dishes of fish, when used at all.
Oysters can be bought in the shell or bulk. Liquid oysters have, in addition, the liquid which comes from the shell, diluted with more or less water. Solid oysters are almost free from liquid. Oysters are usually divided into three grades. The larger ones are called "counts," and are used for frying, broiling and panning. "Selects" are next in size. They are sometimes called "culls," and are nice for escaloping. The smallest are called "stewing oysters." When oysters are taken as they come from the shell, large and small together, they are called "straights."
According to the best authority, beef gives more muscle-forming food in proportion to the fat than either mutton or pork. In mutton and lamb, the proportion of protein and fat is about the same as in the fatter cuts of beef. The leaner cuts of pork contain practically as much fat as the fatter cuts of other meats. Smoked ham is similar in composition to the cuts just mentioned. The large proportion of fat is due in part to the loss of water. The carbohydrates of meat are scarcely worth mentioning, being only a fraction of one per cent. The amount of mineral matter varies. The most important mineral matters are phosphates of potash, lime, and magnesia. There is a wide difference in the food value of meat, whether it be cuts from different animals or different cuts from the same animal. The chuck rib contains about the same amount of nutrients as the loin. Cuts from the loin cost about one-third more. The reason for this is that the loin can be cut into steaks, which can in a few minutes be ready for the table, and they have a fine flavor. The cuts from the chuck rib require much more time to render them equally palatable, and in many cases as digestible, as the other. The extra one-third is paid to gain flavor and save time and skill. Here again the farmer has the advantage over his city cousin, - he can have the entire carcass for live-weight cost.
The prime ribs often give less nutritive material than the chuck ribs, but they sell for a higher price. The cuts from rump and round can usually be bought for two-thirds the price paid for the choice cuts, and if one de-sires as much food value as possible for the money expended, it is well to buy these, and by skillful manipulation render them palatable and digestible. People who are acquainted with the manner in which the poor of the cities live say that the married women who work for wages could often save more money than they earn by staying at home and skillfully manipulating their domestic affairs. It is said that they often buy the better .cuts of meat because they are so much more readily prepared.
Meat is a large item of expense in any family, but the tougher cuts are usually the least expensive. Why are some cuts of meat tougher than others? The muscles which are much used are always tougher than those which are used little or none. Compare the tough, juicy round with the tender, dry tenderloin of beef. The rea-son the same cuts from different animals vary in this respect is that each little filament or fibrillae of which the muscle is composed is surrounded by a membrane. If the animal from which the meat was made was young and well nourished, this tissue is small in proportion to the central part of the filament. In an old and poorly-nourished or hard-worked animal, the tissue is relatively much thicker and harder. The same is true of the fibre or bunches of fibrillae forming the muscles themselves, there being a thicker membrane covering the whole. To soften the cell walls in vegetable foods and render the product palatable and digestible, we subject the food to a long, slow cooking, as in cereals. In a similar manner we render tough meats tender, palatable, and digestible. Different meats vary greatly in flavor. This is mainly due to either the kind or amount of extractives contained in the flesh. The muscular fibre of mutton and pork seems to have very little flavor. The characteristic taste is derived largely from the fat in each case.
Any particular kind of meat has its best flavor when the animal from which it was made was of the best breed, at the most suitable age, and had been cared for and fed in the most perfect manner. The flesh of young animals is more tender but poorer in flavor than that from animals of mature age. In general, the flesh of the female is more delicate than that of the male. Animals which feed on fish usually have a disagreeable flavor. Fish are themselves an exception to this rule. The proportion of nutrients is smaller in fish than in meats, ordinarily, on account of the large proportion of water which they contain. Chicken and turkey are rich in extractives, but poorer in fat than the fatter meats. They have a large amount of refuse, yet they furnish a goodly amount of protein. Meats are a food in which there is excellent opportunity for wasting. The bones and trimmings of meat, which are often thrown away, would aid in making a soup which would in turn help to prevent that worst of all wastefulness, overeating. So far as investigation has been made, meat seems to be quite well digested by most healthy persons. Raw beef has been found more easily digested than that which is cooked. Pork should always be eaten well done, because parasites are so often present in this meat.
Roasted joints of all meats take precedence over those which are boiled. Prof. Atwater says: "If it is desired to kill any organism in the inner portions of the cut of meat, the piece must be exposed for a long time to the action of heat. Ordinary methods of cooking are seldom sufficient. In a piece of meat weighing ten pounds, the temperature of the interior after boiling four hours was only 1900 F. The inner temperature of meat when roasting has been observed to vary from 1600 F. to 200° F., according to the size of the piece. In experiments on the canning of meats, it was found that when large and even small cans were kept for some time in a hot-water bath at a temperature considerably above the boiling point of water, the interior temperature of the meat rose only to 208° F. in some cases, and to 1650 F. in others. The larger cans are, of course, more likely to be imperfectly heated through to the center.
The digestibility of meat is greatly influenced by the presence or absence of fat. Lean meat is, in general, more digestible than fat meat, but much depends upon the kind of fat, and the manner of its distribution. Mutton fat is more difficult of digestion than that found in beef. If the fat is mingled with the fibre of the meat, as in eel and lobster, the rate of digestibility is less rapid. One authority says that the white meat of the shad, with its greater freedom from incorporated fat, is nearly ten per cent, more digestible than the dark and fatter meat of the same fish.
From time immemorial, man has desired meat as a part, at least, of his diet, unless debarred by a moral or religious belief. Drying was probably the method first used for preserving meats. This means of preservation is still used in the preparation of dried beef and summer sausages. Nutritive value is here sacrificed, to some extent, for the sake of appearance. American meat is said to be salted before drying, which, of course, draws out some of the juices. It owes its red color partly to the action of the saltpeter, and in part to drying in the shade.
A method of canning similar to that now in use was patented by Wertheimer in 1839. There is evidence that the art of preserving food by means of heat was known to the ancient Pompeiians, as sealed jars of perfectly preserved figs have been found in the ruins.
When put up in cans, meat retains both color and quality.
According to Prof. Atwater, "canned corned beef contains more protein pound for pound than fresh beef, and stands very high in fuel value."
It is claimed that dried meat prepared in the best manner has lost none of its nutriment, but contains only about one-fourth of its original amount of water. Here as elsewhere in comparing its nutritive value with that of fresh meat, its digestibility would necessarily be considered. The Mexicans still use a primitive method of drying meat. The meat is hung over a slow fire and allowed to smoke and dry at the same time. Hunters and travelers in wild countries often "jerk" the meat they kill, using green sticks which will not readily burn to hold it over the open camp fire. To so preserve it that it will keep long in hot weather, the meat must be cut thin and broiled until quite dry, and if thoroughly smoked, all the better.
Farmers often preserve meat fresh for use during the winter months by freezing it. To preserve meat in this way, it is best to cut the meat at once into the cuts in which it is to be used. Pack these in snow, and set the vessel containing them in a room without fire. The meat is thus more readily handled when wanted for use, and loses less of its juice, as it is necessary to thaw only the amount needed for immediate use. So long as meat is kept frozen, it will remain fresh, but it must not be allowed to freeze and thaw. Greater skill is required to cook frozen meats properly than those which have not been frozen, as the juices exude very readily when a piece of frozen meat thaws. All frozen meat should be thawed before cooking. It is best to set it in a covered vessel, and allow it to thaw slowly in a room where there is fire.
Salt as a preserver of meats has long been in use. Its action on fresh raw meat is to draw out some of the juices, thus robbing the meat, not only of a part of the water, but taking out such other elements as the water with the salt is capable of dissolving. The tissues are on this account somewhat hardened.
There are in common use several methods of preserving by means of salt. By one method, the meat is immersed in a strong salt solution called brine. Pork is the most readily preserved by the use of salt of any of the meats. A second method of using salt as a preservative is by packing the meat in dry salt, using only a sufficient quantity of salt to act as a preservative for a time, then completing "the operation by smoking. This gives a fine quality of meat, known as "country cured ham" and bacon, though the work is very perfectly done by meat-packing firms and by some local butchers. Saltpetre is sometimes used in small quantities with the salt to give the meat a finer color. The quality is now considered improved by this treatment, as it hardens the tissues. Soda is sometimes used to overcome the hardening process. Borax is sometimes used also, as both it and saltpetre are believed to aid in preserving the meat. Borax and soda used in this way, even in small quantities, are considered detrimental to health. Brine which has been once used is believed to dissolve out a less amount of the juices of the meat than a fresh solution does. For this reason, farmers sometimes boil the brine used the previous year, cool, and use it again, but this process is hardly to be recommended, as a fresh brine seems to be more desirable on account of greater cleanliness.
Under the name "meat extracts" we find a large number of preparations. These might be roughly divided into four classes: (1) The true meat extracts, which contain little else than the flavoring matters of the meat from which they are made, in addition to such mineral salts as may be dissolved out. Such should contain no gelatine and no fat. They cannot, from their mode of making, contain any albumen. They are, consequently, merely stimulants, like tea, coffee, and other allied substances. (2) Beef broth and beef tea. These, as commonly prepared in the household, contain some fat, some protein, and have some food value, though the amount may be easily overestimated. (3) Meat juices. These contain the juice extracted from meat by pressure. They usually contain some albumen. Preparations containing dried pulverized meat are called by the same name. These each have some food value. Preparations known as predigested food contain the soluble albuminoids, etc., which are obtained from the meat by artificial digestion. These are in some cases really what they claim to be. The uses of any of these should be by competent medical advice.
In addition to the meat proper, there are other portions of the animal which are known as "offal." In large packing houses, these parts are preserved and utilized. Hearts, livers, oxtails, and kidneys are used for food. Also the tongues of cattle, sheep, and pigs, as well as ox-lips, ox-palates, and sweetbreads. Also pigs' noses and pigs' feet. The lungs are rich in nitrogenous matter, and are used in some countries for food by mincing and combining with other meats. The blood is used to some extent by the Germans in blood puddings and sausages. Caen, France, is noted for the manufacture of tripe. The offal generally contains less fat and about the same amount of mineral matter as the portions called "meat." Much of the remainder of the offal is used for some purpose. The skin is made into leather. Parts of the hoofs, bones, and horns are made into glue. The hoofs and horns proper are made into buttons, spoons, and other articles. Some of the intestines are cleansed and preserved for sausage casings. The bladders are useful for packing putty. The bones make good fertilizers for the land, and are also useful in sugar refineries. The blood may be used in the refining of sugar or as a fertilizer. Pepsin is made from certain parts of the animal, as the stomach of the pig and the thyroid gland of the sheep. In small places, many of these materials are mostly waste, as there is not the means of at once making them into these final products.
The American industry in salted and cured meats is very great. According to the official report for the fiscal year of 1892 to 1893, the American exports of bacon amounted to 397,000,000 pounds. Eighty-two million pounds of ham were exported, 53,000,000 pounds of salt pork, and 58,000,000 pounds of salted beef. The canning of meats is also extensively carried on.
Our critics tell us that we eat as we live, - very rapidly. Figures, which never lie, tell us that we consume meat and sugar in excessive quantities. In some localities, at least, this is true. A one-sided diet never fails to bring evil results.
We, as a nation, boast that we can make an American of any foreigner who chooses to make his home among us. Let us then pay more heed to our manner of living, and hasten the time when we can say that the native American is a model man, physically, mentally, and morally. We study wise feeding in the care of stock, but hear what one writer says of us: "It is not surprising that the Americans are coming to be known as a race of dyspeptics when we consider their universal ignorance of the uses of foods and the needs of the human body."
References: U. S. Dept. Agr., Office Exp. Stations, Bulletin No. 102; U. S. Dept. Agr., Office Exp. Stations, Bulletin No. 34.