This section is from the book "Smith's Family Physician", by William Henry Smith. See also: Natural Physician's Healing Therapies: Proven Remedies that Medical Doctors Don't Know.
It may be asked by some-what constitutes food? Which question may be answered by asking another, what substance is there, animal or vegetable, that has not at some time or other, or by some one been used as food? The English race at home consume mutton, beef, pork, veal, kid, game, poultry, fish, with fruit and vegetables of all kinds; washing them down with beer, cider, wine, milk, buttermilk or water. The Frenchman uses the same, with the addition of frogs and horse flesh, and generally substituting light wine for beer and cider. The Russian consumes large quan-tities of train oil. The Abyssinian frequently takes meat raw, which, after all the talk about it, is not worse than the European and American habit of swallowing oysters raw. The Australian stock-keeper lives principally on beef and mutton, varied occasionally by a joint of Kangaroo; while the East Indians and Japanese live largely on rice. John Chinaman will make a hearty dinner on a dish of puppies, and a West Indian will feed equally well on monkey-pie and parrots. Bear'sflesh, rattlesnakes, snails, locusts, lizards, grasshoppers, seal's and whale's flesh have been occasionally used as food, while an Arabian will have no hesitation at taking a long journey through the desert, with no provision but a small parcel of Gum Arabic.
All kinds of theories, good, bad, and indifferent, have been started by different individuals at different times, respecting the feeding of the human subject. Some recommend plain food, others luxurious; some, few dishes, others many; some that only two or three meals a day should be taken, while the hearty English farmer will take his five or six. It is a standard rule of health that food, if not properly masticated cannot be properly digested, yet many people will tell you they cannot sit long over their meals, they have work to do; and yet, these same individuals, after bolting a meal in ten or fifteen minutes, will sit half an hour, picking their teeth or smoking, before returning to their employment.
There is no doubt that a variety of food is most congenial to the human system, and I am satisfied that if human beings had been intended to live upon two or three articles, such a great variety of eatable things would never have been provided by the Almighty. In most European countries people live as well as their circumstances will allow. This, however, is not by any means the case in Canada. Many people are far too anxious to accumulate property, and will keep themselves and their families on improper or unsuitable food till their constitutions are irretrievably ruined, and then they resort for relief to quack medicines. In the old country, the poorer population in the country will live a great deal on fat bacon by way of meat; but then they generally have plenty of good cheese, and good beer, and in addition to this, each cottage has its garden, and a good supply of green vegetables the whole year round. The Canadian farmer, on the contrary, even when well off, will not generally have green food more than three or four months in the year. He will live for a good part of the year on salt meat, with no vegetables but potatoes; and no beer; and frequently what he calls tea, is of the poorest kind. (Salt in excess irritates the stomach, retards digestion, and causes feverishness, with thirst. According to Liebig, salt impedes the deposition of fat. Animals will not fatten on salt food).
Now to keep up the strength of the muscles, and the general tone of the system, requires a certain quantity of such food as can not only be swallowed, but as can be digested by the stomach. Meat to be digestible and nourishing must be well fed, healthy, tender, and properly cooked. There is far too much tough meat, and far too many tough beefsteaks consumed in Canada. In Europe, a small portion only of the animal is cut into steaks,-those portions that are sure to be tender when cooked; and the remainder of the animal is converted into stews or roasts. \n Canada, on the contrary, the butcher commences at the neck of the beast, and cuts away until he gets to the shank; cutting it all into steaks. Soon after I arrived in Canada, I engaged apartments in a private family. I had my own rooms, and was to board by myself, but they were to supply me with food. The first day they gave me a tough beef-steak for breakfast, and the same for dinner; the next day it was the same: tough beef-steak for breakfast, tough beef-steak for dinner. This kept on regularly for a week ,when I asked if they could not stew the steak for a change, and I told them how to do it. They tried it once, but I suppose the exertion was too great, and they never tried it again. After putting up with these fried steaks for a month, I got tired out, and left the meat untouched. I suppose then they thought a change necessary, and they gave me fried eggs and bacon for breakfast, eggs and bacon for dinner; next day, eggs and bacon for breakfast, eggs and bacon for dinner; and so kept on till I left the eggs and bacon untouched. Next day they took the hint, and returned to the tough beef-steak, and, when this in turn was untouched, to the eggs and bacon. So, I came to the conclusion at last, that they really only understood these two dishes, and, after eating them for eight or nine months, I could stand it no longer, and shifted my quarters.
Man is by nature and habit an omnivorous animal, (that is, he consumes and requires a variety of food, both animal and vegetable); and, in general, his health is best maintained by mixed proportions and varieties of animal and vegetable food. The unhealthiness of many articles of food, even those supposed to be very nutritious, when taken alone, is sufficiently shown by experiments made by some of the French chemists. "They fed dogs, geese, donkeys, and other animals, on articles which are generally considered highly nutritive, as sugar, gum, starch, oil or butter; the animals died with symptoms of starvation almost as soon as if they had been kept without food. Even bread, when too fine, is insufficient for nutriment. A dog fed on pure white bread lived only fifty days, whereas another, fed with the coarsest brown bread, was well nourished, and seemed capable of living to an indefinite period." The necessity of a proper combination of organic elements for the food of animals has long been shown by Dr. Prout, who has pointed to Nature's food, milk, as the great type of all proper kinds of nourishment; as it contains albumen, oil, sugar and water, so all other kinds of food used for ordinary sustenance ought to include these elements, or others identical in composition, and, in fact, all combinations of food sanctioned by custom do contain these ingredients. Bread contains two of these, gluten-which is vegetable albumen, and starch, which is identical in composition with sugar. Meat contains albumen and fat. An insufficient supply of fat in the food has been observed to cause the following results: loss of flesh, the skin becomes skinny, wrinkled and dry, deficient secretion of mucus in the various passages, insufficient formation of bile, and consequently indigestion and feculent excretions, with diminution of animal heat. It is plain, therefore, that moderately fat meat must be the most wholesome. Excess of fat in the food will disorder the stomach by its indigestibility, causing heart-burn or sickness, and sometimes a bilious attack. Fruits and vegetables, in fair quantity, are healthy, and assist in preventing the occurrence of gout and gravel. The Dutch have a proverb, that "Fruit is gold before reakfast, silver before dinner, and lead at supper." It must be borne in mind, however, that fruits are usually less acid in Europe than they are in America, and the habit which so many young people in Canada have, of eating sour and unripe fruit, is very injurious.