The same law should govern man's eating as governs the eating of all other creatures: that is, eat what is most desired of nature's organic compounds and eat no others. Man violates this law when he eats compounds of his own compounding. Herein lies a great source of mischief. All the advantages that come from having a perfect guide were thrown away when man attempted to improve nature and re-compound or uncompound her compounds. In other words, when he began to mix foods and to process them and to substitute medicines for obedience to law, he paved the way for much suffering. His object in thus mixing and processing foods was to see if he could not obtain something that would taste better than nature's compounds. His object in mixing medicines was to see if he could not obtain a substance that would cure him while he continued disobedient to the laws of nature. He has not succeeded in either of these objectives.
One of the most common complaints in our society is that of indigestion. Millions of dollars are spent yearly for drugs with which to palliate the discomforts occasioned by indigestion. Every effect has a cause and we may be certain that every case of indigestion has at least one cause and in most cases we will find, on close investigation, several contributing factors. One man will complain that he cannot eat the simplest meal without suffering. Another will declare that he has tried all manners of diets and ways of living and that it makes no difference: "My food sours on my stomach, no matter what or how little I eat." He must have his after-dinner pill or his sodium bicarbonate after each meal.
Why should a dinner cause trouble? Or why should the same dinner, eaten by several people at a banquet, trouble one or two and not all the diners? Why should any wholesome food, eaten in moderation, cause troubles? Much indigestion is due to overeating; much of it is due to wrong combinations of food; some of it is due to impairment of the digestive system; some of it is due to emotional causes; some of it is due to eating at a time when no food should be taken.
The stomach can digest food only as it is supplied with blood and nerve impulses with which to carry on its function. If these are withdrawn by either physical or mental effort, digestion must suffer. If, while fatigued from the day's activity, one sits down to the dining table and eats a hearty meal, one will not digest food well. When fatigued and drowsy from overeating, it is not well to try to make a speech. We blame an inebriate who makes himself unreliable and unfits himself for useful work by drinking, but we excuse the man who does the same by overindulgence in food and by eating heartily when fatigued.
Some men and women are so mentally active that their mental activities run away, so to speak, with their nervous energy and, when, following an afternoon spent in mental work or excitement, they come home in the evening with a ravenous desire to eat, they lack power to digest the "heterogeneous comminglement" of food stuffs with which they fill their stomachs. Energy that should have been on hand for digestion, having been squandered, does not permit the digestion of any but the simplest meal.
It is surprising how reckless people can be with their energy. In one debauch, one may waste sufficient energy to supply his functional needs for a whole year. If a man is addicted to any vice--alcohol, coffee, tobacco, etc.--that impairs his digestive function, it is the worst kind of folly to think that his digestion can be normalized while the habit is indulged. The best of diets, the simplest of meals are often difficult of digestion, not because there is anything wrong with the food eaten, but because there is a lack of digestive capacity.
In impaired health the normal composition of the nutrients and secretions is impaired and the processes of renewal take place with an energy proportionately deficient. For this reason, recovery of health may be slow and great care in feeding becomes necessary for a prolonged period of time before full digestive capacity is restored. It is an unfortunate fact that these sufferers are usually impatient and expect immediate results to flow from any change of eating which they may make. They are not strictly illogical in expecting immediate results and they do receive immediate benefits, but these are so small as to be hardly noticeable and their progress is often so slow as to be discouraging.
One important requirement in the restoration of normal function is rest--rest not only of the impaired organ (in this case, the stomach), but rest of the whole body. Trall disagreed with those who advised sleeping after a hearty meal. He especially thought that sleeping after the midday meal is not for man, as he should be alert through the day and sleep at night. He thought that when sleepiness follows a meal, either too much was eaten or something else was wrong with the meal. If we are to attach any importance to this thought, we can apply it only to the healthy, vigorous individual--it is certain that the sick, the weak, the devitalized, the profoundly enervated should have rest and sleep after each meal. Any intellectual, emotional or physical stress will so reduce the already impaired digestive capacity that such individuals will be almost certain to suffer.
Our predecessors declared that cooking is more seductive and deceitful than poisonous plants. The latter we usually know and shun; the former are made attractive and we crave them. Yes, cooked foods are made attractive, alike to sight, taste and smell, and this is a great point. It is necessary, in the very constitution of our being, that our foods should be made attractive. Attractive food is more gratefully received and more easily digested; nature recognizes this demand. Nearly all of our best foods, those which in their natural state are ready for our use, are attractive. Fruit is superlatively so. It is true that some people do not care for fruit; usually their taste is so perverted by sharp condiments, or bitter tobacco, or burned up by fiery alcohol that they are unable to appreciate the delicate and delicious flavors of fruits.
It is a fact that nature knows nothing about cooking. It is also a fact that cooking in all its forms deteriorates the nutritional value of all foods, rendering them less adequate as sources of nutriment. It has been a Hygienic principle from the first that anything that is genuinely valuable for human food may be eaten as nature produces it. It does not require cooking, mixing and seasoning in order to make it palatable, digestible and useful.
"Follow nature," we are admonished. Yet, indeed! But let us be sure that we are following nature and not some partial view of her. Nature has her harmonies, contrasts and discords in foods as in colors. There is no more necessity for preparing unwholesome foods than there is to raise poisonous plants.