The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 6 (September 1, 1934)
A Chat on Food Fads
Methuselah ate what he found on his plate,
And never, as people do now,
Did he note the amount of the caloric count—
He ate it because it was chow.
He wasn't disturbed, as at dinner he sat,
Destroying a roast or a pie,
To think it was lacking in granular fat,
Or a couple of vitamins shy.
He cheerfully chewed every species of food,
Untroubled by worries or fears
Lest his health might be hurt by some fancy dessert—
So he lived only nine hundred years.
THat verse was written by a humorist several years ago, when the world's peoples were being vehemently urged every day, in every way, to take a vitamin view of breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning tea, afternoon tea, supper and the snacks between. The vitamins, which had been quietly doing their various jobs for humanity since the beginning of things, had some notoriety for a while, and gave some frights to numbers of timid folk, but happily they have lapsed from the limelight, and are carrying on, as usual, among the carrots and onions, the bacon and eggs, and the oysters on shell.
* * *
Of course, we all have our fads about food. My own principal fads are peasoup, chicken-broth, beef-tea, hare-soup, oysters (on shell, fried, stewed, devilled or scalloped), whitebait, flounder, sole, butter-fish, smoked blue cod, roast lamb, fried bacon and green peas, chops grilled on wood embers, applepie, and so on. I have not yet taken to the raw potatoes or under-done mangel-wurzels recommended by some specialists. Perhaps the freshly-plucked carrot and the uncooked heart of the drumhead cabbage are good for some persons, but, alas, most of us are not spiritual enough for such fare. We are earthly enough to be drawn to the steaming or smoking flesh-pots.
When Caesar appealed for the propinquity of the fat, he had in mind the burly trencherman, the platter-cleaner who loved square meals, broad and deep rations. In Caesar's view the lean and hungry-looking Cassius was probably a person who lived on a radish a day, with a few sips of diluted vinegar. Indeed the average man of to-day rather fears the fad-foodist or food-faddist who thinks that the world's wheels should be run with herbal beer, soda-water and lettuce sandwiches. When a person acts as if real food was the invention of the devil, he needs careful watching in a deal, for his knife will be keen and he will carve to the bone. Some people can be benevolent on a dirt which looks scarcely more attractive than dirt, but it must be hard.
* * *
Brown bread has dropped into the background again. A few years ago it seemed that the nations which clung to white bread were heading for black ruin. The leaders of the brown brigades declared that white bread was merely the stuff of death, and that the strong staff of life was the brown loaf. If we would have better and brighter politics, we must eat more and more brown bread; if we would reach the heights to which hosts of idealists and uplifters were pointing, our knapsacks must be packed with brown bread (the wholemeal loaf). Some people were stampeded into this brownness, and now, just when they are perhaps reconciled to the roughness of it, an English medical man has asserted that the brown doctrine is tosh, and he is boldly flying the white flag.
* * *
That is the way of it always. When the world has hopes of better health from the drinking of quarts of hot water (advised by high authorities), higher pundits arise eventually to ridicule the hot water, and order the public to fill itself with cold pints. When the portly Pottles, whose waist is not what it was, has at last agreed to torture himself with exercises prescribed by one duly qualified practitioner, he nearly has his death from fright by reading a newspaper extract of a medical treatise to the effect that men of his age and corpulence have collapsed suddenly as the result of the very kind of exercising that he was induced to take.
* * *
Chewing-gum, chocolates and icecream may have made the modern boy less omnivorous than his father was long ago. Certainly, in my younger days, the lads of my suburb had very few fads in foods. The pallid pie held no terror for them; they could never get enough pie of any kind or colour. When ordinary and extraordinary food of kitchens was not abundant enough, they ranged into the woods and fields, and devoured all manner of herbage, roots, barks and seeds. What a pride page 39 they would have felt in their feats if they had known then the myriads of good vitamins they absorbed with the green seeds of dandelions, the leaves, flowers or berries of hawthorn, the stalks of cocksfoot, the bark of the elm, the bloom of the Scotch thistle, the acorn, the creamy fibre of the peeled weeping willow, wild turnips and horse-radish. Rich people pay big fees nowadays to be ordered a much less interesting and less invigorating diet than the boys found free in the wilderness and on the sea-shore.
* * *
Even persons who believe they have no fads in their feeding stick to certain conventions. A man who blithely interviews the raw oyster shrinks from the live periwinkle, and he would not even attack the cooked winkle if anybody happened to call it a sea-snail. Kingsford Smith and his companions, when they were waiting for the Southern Cross to be found, in Northwestern Australia a few years ago, had some queer meals. They gave shudders to many folk when they reported, in due course, that they had eaten snails—but this was poetic license. The subsequent inquiry brought out the fact that the molluscs were seasnails (periwinkles, which many people welcome as a delicacy).
* * *
Raw fish appeals not to the average Briton, but in many of the South Sea isles some kinds of small fish are usually eaten raw. Miss Beatrice Grimshaw, who refers to this practice in one of her books, remarks that she was at first horrified by the spectacle, but she ultimately was persuaded to taste a dish of raw fish, and she liked it.
* * *
Some kinds of luscious wood-boring grubs are so highly prized by Australian aboriginals that they have a special religious totem devoted to these creatures, and they have fervent incantations and ceremonies to promote an abundance of the luxury.
* * *
Perhaps the pig is the world's least faddy animal in respect to food, and certain species of caterpillar are the most faddy. They will feed on only one kind of plant. If this favourite food fails, the caterpillar will perish. Whether such a tragedy is due to the caterpillar's lack of intelligence to change its diet, or to sheer conservatism, or to physical inability to adapt itself to strange juices and saps, I know not, but I am thankful that the voraciousness of some caterpillars has its limitations. Yet there seems to be a caterpillar for every sort of plant. If one species will not eat an orchid, another will, very cheerfully.
* * *
Some folks are faddists about food because they are born that way. Nature has given them a very poor affair for a stomach, which is in chronic revolt against the good things of life. These faddists may be forgiven, but there are others whose trespasses are deliberate. I know several commercial artists who could vanquish a hefty navvy in a pie-cart competition, but they feed foolishly. They believe that the best foundation for art is the tart or cold rice-pudding. They fiddle with insipid forms of food, and therefore their work tends to become vapid. When a man of robust build and big appetite plays such mean tricks on his stomach, this organ will have its revenge. If the stomach wishes to be friendly, it is well to encourage its bonhomie.
* * *
The most interesting food-faddist I have known was a man who lived to eat and loved the treat. He was a very thorough believer in food, and plenty of it. His fads did not lie in the exclusion of foods, but in the methods of growing or raising the provender. He had special diets for his cabbages, potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips, and for the fowls, geese, ducks and turkeys, which he fattened for his frequent feasts. He had made enough money to retire, and the hobby which kept him alive was the dieting of various members of the vegetable and animal kingdoms for his corporeal pleasure. Nothing (except the eating) pleased him better than to talk by the hour about his experiments in the feeding of his leafy and feathered pets, and to gaze at his prospective dinners in his garden and poultry-runs.
Novels which literally sold by the million were penned by the late Charles Garvice whose literary output rivalled that of Edgar Wallace—Gar-vice was indeed a prolific writer, and frankly acknowledged his indebtedness to tobacco as a source of inspiration. He was a heavy smoker. Before starting to dictate to his typiste he would fill half-a-dozen pipes with his favourite mixture, arrange them in a row, and smoke one after the other. His tobacco was a special blend remarkably free from nicotine, in which respect it resembled our famous New Zealand tobaccos, the nicotine content of which, however, is smaller still. The toasting to which the New Zealand tobacco is subjected when manufactured accounts for its popularity. For flavour, fragrance, and all-round appeal the four toasted brands, Riverhead Gold, Navy Cut No. 3 (Bulldog), Cavendish, and Cut Plug No. 10 (Bullshead), are unrivalled the world over. Absolutely harmless (as the result of toasting), these—the only toasted tobaccos—are universal favourites. Their success has brought out, mushroom like, a crop of imitations. Take care when you buy!*