The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 1, 1940.)
The Decline of Eating
What knows he of eating who only diet knows? Eating today is an empty boast. The more we learn about food the less we cat it. Where are the trenchermen of yesteryear, the playboys of the platter, the twelve-course men, the lads who bit through bones to get at the marrow?
The art of trenchering is dead. To-day, fear prods the doughtiest diner in the liver, dyspepsia hovers over the dumb-waiter and pusillanimity putters in the pantry.
Girth and Worth.
And yet the past contains many examples of men who were trenchant yet lovers of the trencher; who combined expansive eating with expansive thinking. What about Doctor Johnson and G. K. Chesterton? Here were men whose girth and worth were of equal proportions. Both spent much time with their knees under a table, and yet both gave as much food for thought as thought for food. Eating is often a matter of opportunity, but it is the kind of opportunity that can be made to knock not once, but whenever courage and digestive determination command.
Before thinking became so high and living so low, life was practically devoted to rounding off square meals. Feudal barons spent the greater part of their time with their faces in the nose-bag. Kings also made a good deal of history with a knife and fork.
They Could “Take It.”
Take Henry the Eighth; if there was one thing he liked as well as a wedding it was a free-for-all among the giblets and knuckle-bones. It has even been suggested that it was only the wedding breakfasts that lured him to marriage so often. Of course eating was fine sport in those times when the gentlemen of the court derived good clean fun from flinging well-gnawed shin-bones and trotters at the varlets and knaves, many of whom cherished bumps or contusions as marks of the royal favour, and aim. Henry certainly could “take it.” But, even if he did believe in the adage: “Every man his own widower,” his outlook was as broad as his intake and, making allowance for his belief in the sanctity of widowerhood, he proved that character can be built from the belt up. There was gout, of course, but some maintained that it was worth it.
Even during the great fire of London Samuel kept one eye on the Admiralty and the other on the pantry. He records: “Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it there…. And in the evening Sir W. Penn and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.”
Or, “At noon to dinner with my wife, where a heart of lettuce and a biscuit baked for dogs. I fear my wife pleases me not.”
Or, “Did meet Sir William Green-leaf, and so to the milk bar where we did discourse sombrely and did part right dismally.”
And, “The men of the Fleete did riot at the Nore, burning their diete charts on the quays, and shouting, ‘vittles, not vitamins!’ I fear me it is cannons, not calories, that our ships will need to fight the Dutch.” And, “My Lord, Sir Henry Cheesestraw, did die suddenly this week, a day or two ago, of a beef steak. I do regret his going but do envy him mightily of the beef steak.”
Full Girths and Merry Hearts.
There are people who insist that heavy eating kills us quicker; being still alive I am no authority. True, King Henry the Eighth and Samuel Pepys are dead. That may prove something. On the other hand, Adolf Hitler eats sparingly and he is still alive. That may prove something, too.
I hesitate to add another plan to the already complicated task of saving the world, but what about fatter feeds, merrier meals, cheerier chewing?
After all, Nature expended a good deal of trouble and ingenuity in fitting us up for the task, and it seems ungrateful to spurn her suggestion with “Good-bye to all that!”page 54