It is somewhat curious that, among the many questions which pertain to the national life of Australia, little, if any, attention has been directed to the influences which the daily food and habitual dietary exercise upon the present, and in what way they will affect the future population. And yet it must be apparent that the life of a nation is moulded in no small degree by its daily fare, by its general food habits, and still more by the fact of its living in conformity with, or in direct opposition to, its climatic requirements. It is evident that the natural dietary of the earth's inhabitants is controlled largely by the particular region in which they dwell. Thus the Hindoos, and contiguous Eastern nations, subsist mainly upon the cereals, in which rice plays so prominent a part. The Greenlander's fare, on the contrary, consists almost entirely of oils and fats; indeed, on this point Sir Anthony Carlisle relates the following anecdote : - "The most Northern races of mankind," says he, " were found to be unacquainted with the taste of "sweets, and their infants made wry faces and sputtered out "sugar with disgust, but the little urchins grinned with "ecstasy at the sight of a bit of whale's blubber." In the same way the Arab is a date-eater and the Kaffir is a milk consumer. These facts being borne in mind, it will be desirable to ascertain whether the usual food habits obtaining in Australia are those which the nature of the climate renders advisable. If, as a result of such an inquiry, it be demonstrated that the dietary customs followed here are not in harmony with the climatic conditions, it would, perhaps, be well to suggest in what direction amendment should take place.
A reference to the isothermal lines in any physical atlas will be of considerable value in assisting us to the elucidation of the subject under consideration. These are certain lines drawn over a chart of the earth's surface, on which are located those cities and regions where the mean annual temperature is the same. Thus the mean annual temperature of Sydney is 62.9°; the corresponding line in the northern world runs through Naples and Lisbon in Europe, and a little below the central portion of the United States and California in America. At Melbourne the average yearly temperature is 57.5°, corresponding in the old world to a temperature met with at Marseilles, Bordeaux, the south of France and Northern Italy, while across the Atlantic a somewhat similar climate obtains about the middle of the United States. The mean annual temperature at Brisbane is 67.74°; this is the same as that of Algiers and the southern shores of the Mediterranean generally, and coincides with that met with in New Orleans and the southern states of North America. At Adelaide the average yearly temperature is 63.1°, and the climate is considered to greatly resemble that of Sicily. Now, no other mode that I am aware of, such as this juxtaposition of localities where the mean annual temperature is the same, will afford such a convenient way of contrasting the mode of living which is practised in Australia with that which is followed by the inhabitants of the regions referred to in Europe. The cardinal difference, and one which stands out in bold relief, is that the Australian food habits are characterised by a preponderancy of meat diet and a corresponding neglect of vegetable products. On the other hand, the dietary of Southern Europe is in rational harmony with its climate, and there is not that insensate insistence of a highly nitrogenous animal fare to the exclusion of all else. The striking features, then, in connection with the Australian dietary are this extraordinary consumption of meat and the faith which is presumably attached to its food value. It is no exaggeration to say that the vast majority of our people believe implicitly in the necessity for meat at their three daily meals, and not only is this the case in the cooler parts of the year, but it is practised universally during the height of the summer, without being modified in the slightest degree. Thus the student of ethnography is presented with the somewhat curious anomaly of a people living in a summer temperature of 70° or 80° in the shade, eating more meat than do the bulk of the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland (with their ice and snow) during their winter months. It is one of the characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon race, however, this inability to appreciate the necessity of conforming to new climatic conditions in which their lot may be cast. It will be the same, too, when the British restaurant-keeper begins business in Equatorial Africa. For an absolute certainty his bill-of-fare for the delectation of the unfortunate colonist will consist of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, plum pudding, and the old familiar throng. Whether mine host has to consult the taste of his client, or whether the latter has simply to accept what is proffered, is not absolutely decided; probably they are both imbued with a belief in the necessity of solid fare, regarding it as a solemn truth beyond all possibility of cavil.
This abuse of flesh food in a climate like Australia would be serious enough under any circumstances, but it is intensified and aggravated by the direct unoriginality in dealing with meat. Is it not a fact that there is no attempt whatever made to break through the conventional chain of joints, roasted or boiled, and the inevitable grill or fry ?
In how many houses does the breakfast ever consist of anything but the ubiquitous chops, steaks, or sausages ? indeed, one might almost term them "the faith, hope, and charity " of domestic life. I remember reading some little time ago that if a map of the world were made in which lands of utter darkness were coloured black like the coalfields in an atlas of physical geography, certain races would be signalised by their opaqueness. If such a map were ever compiled, Australia would of necessity be characterised by blackness; such a blackness, indeed, that jet itself would be as snowy white beside it. But why should this lamentable state of things be said of Australians, who claim to be progressive in their ideas and advanced in their views, usages, and customs ?