4. THE BEST FOOD FOR MAN (1)
have said that the French peasantry live much more in
accordance with the dictates of Nature than do the English, and that
consequently they are, as a rule, far more prosperous and well off. It is a very
rare thing indeed for a French peasant to be destitute in his old age, because,
although his wages are not nearly so high as in this
country, they are much more economically spent, and thrift is looked upon as a
cardinal virtue. Hence there is no necessity in
strength are valueless as tests of vital power. The question at issue is not – "How much can a man do in a day?" but "How much can he do in a lifetime?" It is sometimes said by superficial people, – "Beef and beer, will enable you to get through a better day's work than oatmeal or pease pudding." This may be true, generally speaking, because flesh-meat and fermented drinks are both stimulants of the nerves, and under their influence the machinery of the body runs at a faster and more violent rate. But the beef-eater and beer-drinker will probably break down at fifty-five or sixty years of age, because his vitality has been exhausted by forced work in excess of its natural and normal capacity, while the abstainer from these exciting aliments will be a hale man with work in him yet at eighty. It is the old story of the hare and the tortoise.
So then there are three distinct claims established for economy, on the part of the diet without flesh-food: First, it is the most economical as regards the relation between the Land and the People, viz.: cultivated land yielding corn, roots, and vegetables will support a population at least three or four times larger than the same extent of soil laid down in pasture; and this for a two-fold reason, because land under cultivation affords work and wages to a large number of hands, – which must otherwise get employment across the seas, – and because also its produce trebles or quadruples that of land devoted to cattle-grazing.
Secondly a non-flesh diet is the most economical as regards housekeeping. A shilling's worth of oatmeal with fruit and good vegetables will yield as much nourishment and satisfy the appetite better than five shillings' worth of flesh; and if we assume that, on the average, the population of the United Kingdom were to reduce their consumption of animal food by only one pound a week per head, it would give a saving of ten or twelve million pounds sterling a year. A vegetable dietary, to which we may add cheese, milk, butter, and eggs, costs three times less than a mixed dietary of flesh and vegetables.
Thirdly the reformed diet is more economical as regards Human life and strength. Even if you are fortunate enough to escape suffering and disease from some of the horrible disorders to which we have seen flesh-eaters, especially among the poorer classes, are liable, you will probably have to pay with premature infirmity and shortened life the penalty exacted for indulgence
in unnatural food. If you burn your candle at both ends you must not expect the material to last so long as it otherwise would.
I may add to these three important economies a fourth, which is worth your serious consideration.
The costliest and the commonest vice in the
hands he held a loaf of bread and a knife. The loaf represented the wages of the working-man. First he cut off a moderate slice. "This," said he, "is what you give to the city government." He then cut off a more generous slice, – "And this," he went on, "is what you give to the general government." Then, with a Vigorous flourish of his carving knife, he cut off three-quarters of the whole loaf. "This," he said, "you give to the brewer and to the public-house." "And this," he concluded, showing the thin slice which remained, "you keep to support yourselves, your families, and to pay the rent."
Now, perhaps some of you, who are not used to vegetarian ways, may be wondering what non-flesh-eaters have for dinner. Well, they have a much larger variety of dishes than eaters of beef, mutton, and pork. But the diet of the vegetarian is a scientific diet, and either knowledge or experience must teach him the nutritive values of food-stuffs, before he can make a wholesome and frugal use of them. All foods contain certain elements necessary to the building up of the material and the renewal of the force of the body, but these elements are contained in very different proportions in various foods. Scientific men have divided the nutritive properties of food into two categories which include respectively: Tissue-forming substances, and Force or Heat-forming substances. They call the first Nitrogenous, and the second, Carbonaceous. Now, both these necessary kinds of food are abundant in the vegetable kingdom, and, proportionately to the weight, there is a great deal more of them to be got out of farinaceous and leguminous matter than out of dead flesh. An adult man in good health, says Dr. Lyon Playfair, requires every day four ounces of nitrogenous or flesh-forming substance, and ten or eleven of carbonaceous or heat and force-giving substance. He can get these elements of nutrition out of bread, oatmeal, pease, cheese, and vegetables at a cost more than less by half that of the butcher's meat necessary to furnish the same amount of nourishment. It is chemically and physiologically demonstrated that no property whatever, beyond that of stimulation, exists in flesh-meat that is not to be found in vegetable food, and that, therefore, it is a terrible error to suppose flesh-meat to be more strengthening than other aliments. It is, in fact, the reverse which is the case, for the quantity of nutriment contained in corn-meal is, for every hundred parts, more than double, sometimes treble – that contained in the same quantity
of butcher's meat. The most nutritious and strengthening of all foods are the grains, – the fruit of the cereals, – wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, maize, and such mealy vegetables as beans, haricots, pease, lentils and their kind. All sorts of fruit are rich in carbo-hydrates, or sugary food, which, according to many medical authorities, is the most necessary of all to the human system. Dr. Playfair puts down the daily proportion of sugary food necessary to an adult man at eighteen ounces – that is more than four times the amount of nitrogenous food requisite. This indispensable item cannot be got out of flesh-meat at all, but it is plentiful in table vegetables, such as potatoes, beetroot, tomato, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, parsnips, and so on. The Vegetarian Society has issued a series of excellent little Cookery books, varying in price from half a crown to a penny, giving recipes for any number of good cheap meals, without fish, flesh, or fowl. You cannot do better than study these, if you wish to live economically and purely, and to bring healthy children into the world.
Most of the diseases which fill our hospitals are self-induced, having their cause in debauched habits, sometimes aggravated by hereditary malady. Children are born blind, or rickety, or scrofulous, or tuberculous, or idiotic on account of the feeding and drinking habits of their parents. They are bred up under circumstances of incessant vice and misery, and they suck gin with their mother's milk. Hardly weaned, they are given pork and offal for food; their bones give way, their flesh ulcerates, the mothers and the parish doctor together make matters worse by the administration of drugs, and at length the wretched little sufferers, masses of disease and uncleanness, are brought to the hospital. Or, already vitiated in childhood, the average man or woman of the poorer class, ignorant of the laws of health and of the construction of the human body, continues in the way in which his or her early years were bent, and accumulates disease by constant recourse to that which originally caused it, until, at forty or fifty years of age, the pauper ward or the hospital bed receives the unhappy patient, incurably afflicted with some organic complaint. It is simply frightful to the educated mind to hear the confessions of some of these poor bed-ridden creatures. When a student in the hospitals, I was often unable to credit their accounts of the quantities and kinds of strong drinks they had swallowed on a daily average while in work. The question of diet, – what
we ought to eat and drink – is the question which underlies everything else and affords the key to the cause of all the accumulation of suffering and moral evil which we meet in poor districts, and especially in cities. Hygiene and morals go hand in hand and are inseparable, just as body and mind make one person, so intimately welded together, that neither good nor harm can be done to the one without affecting the other. This consideration brings me to the most important of all the aspects of flesh-eating, viz., its immoral tendency. We have seen one of its indirectly immoral results in the fondness it sets up for strong drink, but I am now about to speak of the degrading and barbarous nature of the habit itself, as it affects the national customs, manners, and tone of thought. It needs no very great penetration to see what harm the proximity of slaughter-houses and the loathsome surroundings of the trade must do in the poorer quarters of towns, – the only parts in which these places are to be found. The rich and refined classes shut these things out of sight and hearing, but they are forced upon the poor, and their results are potent for evil. How is it possible to teach poor children the duties of humane treatment of dumb creatures and of tenderness to beasts of burden when their infancy and youth are spent in familiarity with the scenes which surround the slaughter-house, and while they are taught to look upon these institutions and on all they involve as lawful, right, and necessary to man? It is heart-rending to be in the vicinity of the shambles of a large town when its victims are being driven in. Bewildered oxen, footsore, galled, and bruised, sheep with frightened faces, scared at the baying of dogs and the sticks and goads so freely wielded by the roughs who drive them, – little brown-eyed calves, for whose loss the patient mother cows are lowing in the homestead; – all the sad, terrible procession of sacrifice that enters every city at dawn to feed the human multitude that calls itself civilised, – these are the sights upon which the early-rising children of the poor are educated. And a little later in the morning may be heard from within the slaughterhouse the cries of the dying, and the thud of the pole-axe upon the brow of some innocent miserable beast, and the gutters begin to run with blood; and presently the gates of the slaughter-yard open, and out comes a cart or two laden with pailfuls of blood and brains and fresh skins, reeking with the horrible odour of violent death. Are spectacles and sounds
like these fit for the eyes and ears of little children, or indeed for any human creature, young or old? It is useless to urge that the Bible justifies the slaughter of animals for food. The Bible seems to sanction a great many practices which modern civilisation and philosophy have unanimously condemned, and which have been made penal offences in all Western codes of law. Such, for instance, are the practices of polygamy and of slavery, which are not only sanctioned in the Bible, but are in some cases positively enjoined. Even murder itself appears to be vindicated in some parts of the Old Testament, as are also many revengeful and cruel acts. No civilised general in these days would dream of conducting warfare as Joshua, as Deborah, as Samuel, or as David conducted it – such deeds as theirs would be justly held to sully the brightest valour; no minister of religion in our times could endure to redden his hands daily with the blood of scores of lambs, doves, and oxen; no average man, woman, or child could be induced to assist in stoning to death an unfortunate "fallen woman," or a lad who had disobeyed his parents or used strong language. Yet these are some of the practices commended and inculcated in the Bible, and justifiable on the same grounds as the practice of flesh-eating.
But the Hebrew Bible is not the only sacred Book in the World. Other "holy Scriptures," known as the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tripitaka, and the Dhammapada, which form the Canon of the religions professed by the largest part of mankind, enjoin abstinence from flesh-food upon all religious persons and extend the command, "Thou shalt not kill," to all creatures, human and animal, which are not noxious and dangerous to the interests of peace and order. In regard to this subject, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the annual meeting of the Church Missionary Society on 1st May of the present year (1883), said: –
"There are beautiful fruits belonging to the ancient civilisations of the East which we shall work into our Gospel, and our children, ages and generations hence, will wonder how we found the Gospel quite complete without them. Take such a noble thought as the Buddhist thought of the perfect sacredness of Life, how everything that lives, down to the mere animated dust, is a sacred thing. The Buddhist sees the difference between life and everything else that God has made, and it gives to him a tenderness and a sweetness, and a power
union with the creation, which, when we have apprehended it, will enable us to
see better and deeper and nobler meanings in
These are good words of the Archbishop, and worthy of our serious thoughtfulness. It is not the letter, but the spirit of the Bible which is our true guide. The letter is subject to error, it belongs to the things of time, and has become the stumbling-block of the critics; but the spirit is the true Word of God; it is catholic, vital, and progressive. It is always with us, leading us into all truth, as we are able to bear it; but the letter is behind us and behind the age, it is dead, and killeth all who make an idol of it.
It has always seemed to me a strange and horrible anomaly that every one of the great Festivals of the present Christian Church is marked by some wholesale sacrifice of living creatures to our depraved appetites. Christmas, Shrove-tide, Easter, Michaelmas, all are made the occasions of special slaughter. And the season of "peace and good will" is, above all others, selected by common consent as that of universal bloodshed and violence! So soon as "the time draws near the birth of Christ," the streets of city and hamlet everywhere run with blood, and the knife and the pole-axe make havoc among the patient-eyed beasts of the stall, in whose presence, tradition says, the Holy Child made his advent on earth. What a basis is this for Christian civilisation! What associations are these with which to familiarise the minds of our children! How many among the tens of thousands of worshippers in church and chapel throughout the land on Christmas Day give so much as one minute's thought of regret to the incalculable suffering and cruelty caused to our "poor relation," the domestic animals, in order to celebrate the reign of One who is called the "Prince of Peace"? How many think with any shame or sorrow of the human ministers to all this gluttony and selfishness: – of the butchers and slaughter-men passing their lives in scenes of loathsome bloodshed and among unwholesome fumes of death, – of the demoralisation and deterioration of body and mind, of which the perpetration of so much cruelty and savagery must be the inevitable cause?
We trust, – we who live in the Future rather than in the Past or Present, – that the dawn of a better day is about to rise upon our world. Year by year the Spirit of Christ grows mightier and its meaning clearer, as one by one the mists of
superstition and misconception melt and drop away from the Holy Name, and we learn that the history of Man is the history of perpetual struggle after the Ideal, of perpetual aspiration after the "more excellent way." This Ideal, this Way, which is also the Truth and the Life, constitute the Christ in man, the ever-living, ever-risen Lord, – to follow whom is to follow "all things lovely, just, pure, and of good report."
It will be seen that the view I take of this question, "What is the Best Food for Man?" involves considerations far transcending the mere physical or economical plane. There is a Best Food for Man which implies a Best mode of Living, a Way into which all paths converge, leading to one celestial goal. This is the Way of Paradise, which is, equally, the Way of the Cross, because it is the will of God, and, therefore, the law of the universe, that no perfection is possible in anything but by means of self-denial and self-conquest. The ordinary flesh-eater, if he be a man of any perception, is always fain to acknowledge, on being pressed, that there is something in the usual mode of feeding which clashes with his finer sense of what ought to be. He would rather not talk about the slaughter-house, he feels that the whole subject is, somehow, unsavoury, and more or less frankly admits that he cannot associate the idea of slaughter with what are called "Utopian" theories of existence. But, in most cases, he is not ready to sacrifice the least of his appetites to his conscience. He likes the taste of flesh-meat, he will tell you, and does not wish to deprive himself of the pleasure it gives him. It is the custom of Society to eat it, and he has no desire to make himself conspicuous by refusing to partake of the dishes set before him by his friends. Such an attitude of mind, of course, can only be dealt with effectually by an effort of will on the part of the individual himself. The excuses thus formulated are precisely those with which every transgressor of every moral law turns to bay on the man who seeks to reform or convict him. The reason of such a man may be amply convinced that flesh-eating is neither scientific nor civilised, and yet he lacks the courage to carry these convictions into practice. No logic is able to influence a person of this kind. His affair is with his Conscience rather than with his reason.
But sometimes we meet opponents who tell us that the plea for purer and more merciful living rests on mere "sentiment." Beasts kill one another, they say, therefore man may kill
beasts. And if he did not so kill them, they would so increase in numbers that he himself would become their prey. Let us examine the value of these arguments. It is no shame or reproach to us that a large part of our doctrine rests upon the basis of the sentiments. It must necessarily be so if the doctrine be really a scientific and reasonable doctrine, because God and Nature are not at strife but in harmony, and that mode of living which is best fitted for our bodies and most helpful to the development of our minds is, of course, most in harmony with our moral nature. Nature has not made the consumption of flesh necessary or suitable to the human organism, and the bodily needs of man are not, therefore, in continual antagonism to his reason and to his spiritual instincts. Were it otherwise, we should be forced to admit the tendencies of civilisation and of morality to be at war with the dictates imposed by natural law. And it is precisely the power to recognise and exercise the sentiments which makes man to differ from the beasts. The glory of humanity does not lie in its physical form, for, from time immemorial, the world has seen brutes in human shape, with whose ferocity, malignity, and lust no lower animal could compare. Nor does it lie in sagacity, or perfection of method in mechanical contrivance, – the basis of all we call Intellect; for on this ground, the mere bee, the ant, the beaver, the bird, the fox, the dog, compete with and even surpass us, as may easily be ascertained by any observer of nature. Nor does man's superiority rest on his physical strength, for what is his muscular force compared with that of the elephant, the rhinoceros, or any of the terrible beasts of jungle, forest, and plain? It is none of these things that makes man; but it is the possession of moral reason, the conception, practice and veneration of Truth, Love, Mercy, Justice, Self-denial, Honour, Charity. And these are the sentiments. And our system of living is pre-eminently a sentimental system, founded in the nature of Humanity, and made for true Men.
The rule which applies, therefore, to the lower animals, – our brothers in all but in the development of spiritual faculties, – is no rule for us, and cannot be twisted into a criterion for our conduct, or an apology for our cruelties. If we are to justify ourselves in killing and eating them because some of the fiercer races among them kill and eat one another, we might, by the same logic, descend to their plane in respect of all other practices attractive to low-minded and vicious men, and revert
to polygamy, disregard of personal rights, and still worse manners. For if certain animals see no harm in bloodshed, neither do they see harm in theft, rapine, and seduction.
As for the objection that unless we ate our animal brethren, they would eat us, nothing can be more ill-considered or pointless. One would suppose the objector to be under the impression that cattle, sheep, and other market animals grow wild like trees or grass, instead of being the objects of an elaborate system of forcing, breeding, rearing, buying, and selling. It would be quite as logical to fear being devoured by our unused potatoes and turnips as to dread being eaten up by our herbivorous animals! For these creatures are exactly in the position of the edible crops we plant annually for our use, and if they were not artificially bred, they would rapidly diminish in numbers, change their character, and return to the orderly balance of Nature. The fact is that the force of our objector's argument is all the other way, and that it is precisely to the flesh-eating habits of our present population that we owe a very real danger of being eaten up by flocks and herds. For in order to meet the exorbitant demand for animal food and for field sports, thousands of English men and women are annually compelled to give place to cattle and to sheep runs; land which would support scores of families with corn and crops is laid waste for pasture, for cover, for warrens, for preserves, for deer-forests; and the peasantry and the agriculturists, eaten out of house and home by beasts, are forced to congregate in overstocked towns, whose streets are hideous with the plague of drink-shops, slaughter-yards, and meat-markets; or else to quit their native shores and seek a new world far off beyond the seas.
Under our present regimen, the beasts of fold and of cover usurp the people's rights, and with this usurpation come the accompanying evils of poverty, dirt, squalor, drink, crime, the enforced exile of field labourers, and the consequent surplus of a helpless female population of a million souls, condemned thus, inevitably, to a loveless and lonely life, or to the alternative of misfortune and shame.
Is it too much to ask of the human race that it should consent to restore the world to the dominion of natural law and order; – that it should sacrifice the luxury and sensuality of the Few to the peace and joy of the Many, and that it should learn to be wise, clean, pure, thrifty, and virtuous?
Is it too much to ask the suppression of an organised system of carnage, involving a foul and unhealthy traffic, disgusting occupations, depraving spectacles, and gross barbarity? – To plead for the restoration of Beauty in the morals of the people, in the surroundings of daily life, in the haunts and homes of the poor; in the sports and at the banquets of the rich? Surely not, for alike from the scientific, the hygienic, the aesthetic, and the spiritual point of view, the Best Food for Man is that which does no violence to his nature, physical or moral, and which involves none to other creatures at his hand. For this we are Men, that alone of all Nature's children we should be able to understand the secret of her manifold transmutations, and the goal of her striving; for this we are Men, that we may be able to confirm her inspiration by our Reason, and that, standing open-eyed and face to face with our nursing mother, we may know what the best of our younger brothers only dimly feel, and grasp with strong, mature, responsible sense knowledges that are with them but instincts, and virtues which their undeveloped minds reflect as inborn impulse merely. Thus may Man endorse the work of God, becoming its exponent and interpreter while others remain its objects, and realise upon a higher and spiritual plane the beautiful intentions of the Divine Mind in the world of natural forms and evolutions. And the more he himself becomes uplifted towards that Mind, the more also will he love and pity and long for harmony with all innocent incarnations of life in the great universe of Being.
(101:1) This article was written by Anna Kingsford, and was published (in two parts) in the Theosophist of February and of March 1884.