We can now note the fact that nitrogen is the main reliance of crowded populations all over the world, and that every single one of them except the flesh-eating savage, is partially starved for nitrogen. The facts we are about to mention merely reduce the question of starvation to finer terms - the lower the civilization the less able are they to obtain nitrogen. In civilization itself, only the less intelligent classes are unable to obtain sufficient.
Civilized countries which import foods, depend upon nitrogen - meats and wheat. The point of the matter as to nitrogen is this: for a century there has been a perfect stream of it, almost a flood, poured into that Northwest or Aryan Corner of Europe, which will occupy so much of our attention. Nitrogen from all over the world keeps it supersaturated with people. A century ago, things were very gloomy in England. Dr. E. S. Holden* says that there was a succession of bad harvests, wheat went from thirty-four shillings per quarter, in 1780, to eighty-seven, in 1820, and Malthus could not see anything but starvation if more babies appeared. Then started the stream of nitrogen which supports a population denser than Malthus ever imagined was possible. If all the excreta of men and animals could be kept and put into the soil again, instead of run into the ocean, England would soon have more nitrogen to the acre than any place on earth, for it is said that she annually throws away in her sewage, soluble nitrogen compounds of the value of $80,000,-000 - a stupid way of disposing of it. We do the same, and then spend millions more to purify our rivers so that we can drink the water.
Nitrogen is so valuable in China and Japan that every bit of it is saved - human excrement brings a high price, and is the universal fertilizer. They thus return to the soil what we waste into the ocean, and with an inferior civilization, they support many people per square mile more than we do. But even with all their care, there is nitrogen starvation in China, where every form of animal food is used - even human flesh in famines.
It is to be noted that China exports very little nitrogen, but a great deal of starch in the form of rice. As this starch is obtained from the air there is little or no robbery of the soil. It is a curious fact that China raises fuel foods (starch) to sell to Filipinos and other nations, there being an enormous export trade, but her starvation is more in nitrogen foods, the repairing and growth elements. She, too, is like a locomotive with plenty of coal, but too little metal for repairs of the old engines and for building new ones.
* Munsey's, September, 1899.
One of the foolish things which chemists and physiologists once taught, was to the effect that we must eat little animal food in the tropics because the native eats little. Dr. H. W. Wiley, the government chemist, repeated this orthodox error in an address before the American Chemical Society.* He actually advocated a fruit diet in the tropics, in spite of the fact that the British long ago were compelled to increase the meat ration of soldiers in India, as it was found that they needed more nitrogen for repairs on account of the greater exhaustions of the tropics. We once thought that our soldiers would be better in the Philippines if they ate less meat, and a prize was given to an essay which recommended that policy, but experience showed us that it was wrong, and the testimony is universal that they must have as much, if not more, than at home, if they are to be vigorous and properly nourished. The laborers on the Panama Canal were highly inefficient until the government established a good food supply in the way of meats.
The ration of the Danish soldiers in the West Indies is a pound of bread and four ounces of meat. Certain writers have therefore compared our ration to this, saying that ours was too liberal. How terrible is the mistake will be seen when we learn that these Danes have fifteen cents of money daily to buy extra food. As our total ration may cost only twenty or twenty-five cents, we see they are close on to twice as liberal as we are. A confirmation of this view comes from a foreign military surgeon. He shows that the nitrogen starvation is a great evil in overcrowded Europe also. Dr. Albert Bernheim * gives a resume of a very valuable paper on "Albuminous Nutrition and Nutritious Albumen," by Doctor Finkier, Professor in the University of Bonn.*¡ The details do not concern us, but what is of vast importance is the recognition of the fact that the lower one goes in the social scale in Europe the worse is the food, in quantity and quality. Dividing the people into four classes, according to wealth, their food is in the following proportion, class one being the poorest:
* Science, February 7, 1905. * Philadelphia Medical Journal, March 9, 1901.
*¡ Read before the Ninth International Congress for Hygiene and Demography at Madrid, Spain, April 10 to 17, 1898.
It was finally recognized that these poorer classes, hard workers by the way, are notoriously underfed, and even the rations of the armies are too small. The workers as a consequence become prematurely old and exhausted. Finkler is strenuous in his advocacy of increasing the proteids of all workers, and has constructed a combination of proteids which he thinks is the best, as it is wholly digestible. It is designed for use with nervous disorders needing albuminous food, and in wasting diseases needing nutrition. He believes the proteids are the most important energy producer for muscular work, as they alone can support life while the fats and carbohydrates cannot. He thinks all muscular energy comes from disintegration of albumen, which alone must be the supporter of muscle resistance.
Frank G. Carpenter says (Washington Star) of the Germans:
"I am told that the cost of the army is rapidly increasing. This is not so much in the amount paid by the government, but is the enormous sums which have to be contributed by the people to enable their sons to maintain themselves in good military style. The German government does not spend as much on its war department, including pensions, as we do upon our war department. The actual expense, however, is equal to two or three times what the government pays. There are 600,000 private soldiers in Germany who receive from six to twelve cents a day outside their rations. The rations are poor, and they must have more to supplement them. The result is that every family which has a son in the army supplies him with a weekly or monthly allowance as great as it can afford, and the total of these allowances amount to hundreds of millions of dollars a year. I have seen it estimated at $200,000,000, but it is probably more".
We have long been calling attention to the fact that our army ration at home is not big enough, and that if we base arguments upon underfed European armies we will starve our men. Even if our ration is bigger than the German, that does not prove ours to be big enough. The German ration is particularly deficient in nitrogen. Fuller details are given in an article by the present writer in the New York Medical Record, 1899.