No subject is of more vital importance to the care of health than that of food. Hence a knowledge of the value of various food products is indispensable to housekeepers and to those who value their own health.
Are vegetarians right, who insist that we should eat no meat at all ? Their argument is, that vegetables contain all the elements required for our nourishment, made up into organic stuff, ready to be digested and built up into our tissues and used as fuel. Hence, they say, it is useless, cruel, and expensive to slay our subject animals to gratify our carnivorous taste.
True, plants, roots, seeds, and fruits do contain everything absolutely necessary for food. Men often live for years, many perhaps (after infancy) for lifetimes, without animal food. But that is not the whole question. Is a solely vegetable diet the best for health with all people?
On this we must inquire further; are the elements in exactly the same state of combination in vegetables as in meat? Our answer is, no. They are more concentrated in animal flesh, are worked up already into animal substances, and therefore are more readily assimilated than vegetable food.
Can we judge by anything in our structure which we are best fitted for ? Flesh-eating beasts, as lions, cats, dogs, have only sharp, cutting, and tearing teeth. Grass-eaters have nippers in front, and all the back teeth broad-crowned, nearly flat. We resemble the bear, hog, and rat, in having teeth for cutting in front, tearing at the sides, and broad, grinders back in our jaws.
The length of the human alimentary canal (that is, stomach and intestines) is about six times that of our bodies; intermediate between that of the purely carnivorous and of the entirely herbivorus animals. It would seem then that, like the bear, hog, and rat, we are made fit for either animal or vegetable food. We are omnivorous.
On the whole, this is the conclusion to which physicians and sanitarians have generally come - that, with healthy people, living in the open country, not working very hard, and having an abundance of good vegetable food, meat is not necessary. They can live long lives without it. But, in close-built cities, where the air is not pure, where work is hard, and "vexation of spirit" abounds, a mixed diet is best.