Food, generally speaking, denotes those alimentary substances which are taken into the stomach, whether fluid or solid; but it is usually confined to the latter kind: - of the former we have already spoken in the article Drink.
In the early ages of the world, mankind were supported by acorns, berries, wild roots, and such other vegetables as the earth spontaneously produces. In succeeding centuries, as civilization advanced, luxury also made rapid progress; men had recourse to animals, as well as to vegetables artificially raised for their sustenance; and, in still later ages, the art of preparing food has been brought perhaps to the highest degree of perfection, of which it is susceptible.
Though originally designed to be a blessing to mankind, as well as their support, food may, in many cases, be justly considered as a curse: for we do not hesitate to affirm, that the injudicious conduct of parents and nurses, during infancy, and the early years of childhood, lays the foundation of those numerous diseases, which, at a maturer nature age arise from indigestion, and have, in many families, become hereditary. • The aliment of children ought to be adapted to their age, and the strength of their digestive powers. Hence they ought by no means to be fed immoderately, and promiscuously with every kind of food : as, by this indulgence, the first passages are distended, and their stomachs gradually acquire an unnatural craving for victuals, before the preceding meal is properly assi-milated. Such conduct is particularly injurious during the first year of their age : for, when their stomachs become more vigorous, they may be enabled, by slow de-crees, to digest different kinds of victuals, the nature and properties of which are extremely opposite ; though excess in quantity is always hurtful. No food whatever, that has been prepared for many hours, should be given to children, espe-cially after being warmed up, as it generates flatulence, heart-burn, costiveness, and a variety of disorders which are equally painful and difficult to remove. Sudden changes from liquid to solid food are equally dangerous: one kind of aliment only, should be given at each meal, in moderate portions ; and not a multiplicity of incongruous mixtures, in Immediate succession, such as broth or soup, meat boiled or roasted, after taking milk, fruit, etc.
Ail stimulating dishes, prepared for adults, as well as beer, wine, spices, coffee, and other heating liquors, should be carefully withheld from children; as they often occasion the most affli6tive complaints, for instance, eructations, vomiting, spasms, and convulsions, especially during dentition; and, if the hapless victims of indulgence survive that period, they become liable to other tormenting diseases, the most frequent of which are the scurvy, scrophula, and consumption.
There is another abuse in the feeding of children, which cannot be too seriously reprehended, namely, to introduce chewed victuals into their mouih, a practice equally disgusting and unwholesome.— Young and healthy mothers, it has. been said, may safely perform this office for their children : but, in. such case, it is requisite that the parent be in a complete state of health, that she be provided with, sound teeth, and rinse her mouth, previously with pure water. Under these circumstances, she may ven-ture to perform mastication, though it would be more advisable to relinquish this practice, and to give infants such food only as they are able to chew and digest.
Having already treated on the food of adults, under the article Diet, and on the different modes of preparing it, under that of Cooking, we have but a few remarks to add for the information of the reader.
Vegetables are, with a few exceptions, more difficult of digestion than animal food; but a due proportion of both, with the addition of acids, during the summer months, is alike grateful and conducive to health. On the whole, the flesh of young quadrupeds is less nutritive than after they have attained a proper age; though it will, in general, be more easily converted into alimentary matter. In a salted state, meat not only loses a considerable part of its gelatinous and spirituous particles, but it likewise becomes oppressive to the digestive organ, and imparts a degree of acrimony to the human fluids, which has a remarkable tendency to generate putrid diseases, such as the scurvy of mariners. - Hence it would be a desirable ob-ject to ascertain, by accurate experiments, whether beef, pork, etc. might not be kept fresh at sea for many months, merely by burying it in charcoal-powder, of which it could be easily divested by proper ablution. Such is our decided opinion, and we venture to recommend this important subject to the farther researches of patriotic inquirers.
With respect to the quantity of food, there is one general rule, which ought never to be disregard-ed ; namely, to cease eating, when the first cravings of appetite are satisfied, so as to renovate the waste which the body has apparently sustained. By a strict adherence to this principle, many of those distressing complaints arising from intemperance, might be effectually obviated ; and our fashionable watering-places would not be so frequently crowded by the victims of luxury.
The proper choice and distribution of this food, in such manner as to ensure the greatest advantage to vegetation, is an object deserv-ing the most attentive exertion of every skilful husbandman. - The component parts of the nourishment of plants are supposed to be air, heat, water, earth, and nitre; but it is by no means ascertained, which of these ingredients prinicipally contributes to their growth and reproduction.
Various opinions have been held respecting the existence of an aerial acid spirit; but, from the late dis-coveries in chemistry, this invisible' agent appears to be no other than what is now termed oxygen gas, or the acidifying principle, by the powerful influence of which even iron is oxydated, or converted into rust: and, as this vital gas is an essential constituent of the atmosphere, all plants necessarily par-take of its animating properties. Thus nitre is said to nourish them; because it contains a large portion of oxygen ; though it is certain that saltpetre only prepares other sub-stances to effect that purpose: thus, if nitre, in a solid or liquid state, be applied to the root of a plant, it will destroy it; but if it be placed at a distance, it attenuates, and decomposes the viscous and naturally pernicious matters contained in the earth, so as to render them fit for supplying vegetables with nutriment.
Air, on account of its elasticity, is absolutely necessary to the increment of vegetables; warmth is of equal importance, because no plant can thrive without some degree of heat. But, doubtless, the chief article is earth; which, being prepared by the nitrous, and other volatile salts, such as are generated in dung, not less than by water and air, is assimilated to the nature of plants ; constitutes a part of them; and is inseparable from them: but, if water, air, and heat, be taken away, the plant will still exist; though, from the want of those elements, it has ceased to vegetate.
The excess of nitre, air, water, and heat, however, is a proof that these articles do not constitute the proper, or only food of plants. Thus, too great a proportion of nitre, or other salts, corrodes, and deprives them of vegetable life; too much water drowns them ; too great a degree of air dries their roots ; and too much heat shrivels and burns them; but there can-not be too large a proportion of earth, unless the plant be too deeply buried under it, so as to exclude the salutary influence of the other elements; in which case it must necessarily perish.
Many experiments have lately been made with factitious gases, in order to ascertain whether the growth of plants might be forwarded by such artificial agents ; but, though some of these elastic airs, such as oxygen, have been found remarkably to promote vegetation, yet the expence and trouble, which these applications would occasion in the great way, will ever be insuperable objections to their general introduction. - From recent attempts to fertilize and stimulate the soil itself, as the growing medium, with chemical solutions, it appears that water very slightly impregnated with camphor, or, according to others, with the phosphoric acid (which see), has produced uncommon effects on the earth of vegetables, and accelerated their rapid growth in a very evident manner. Farther experiments, however, will decide how far such means are practicable, and whether the nature of plants thus forced, is materially changed or affected.