Fish, Flesh or Fowl

This is the third article in February of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on February 21, 1909, and is an article on xx

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Fish, Flesh or Fowl

THAT we of the Anglo-Saxon race—Britons and Americans alike—eat more meat than any other nation is a fact established beyond the reach of dispute. It would be waste of time, space, ink, paper and nervous force to enter upon a survey of the reasons why it would be well for us, physically, mentally—and vegetarians say morally—to eat but half as much flesh foods as we now consume. I doubt if all the lectures, essays and private arguments on the subject with which we have been pelted within a quarter century have lowered the income of one butcher in these United States. A thoughtful minority of readers who are willing to be learners, acknowledging that a heavy meal of beefsteak, fried potatoes and buckwheat cakes is not the best preparation hygienic science could devise for the day’s work, especially for the brain toiler, have modified the morning bill of fare. Fruit, cereals, made more nourishing by cream; broiled English bacon, toast, tea and coffee are stereotyped menus in thousands of homes. In as many fish is eaten more freely as a substitute for grosser meats. In like proportion eggs has assumed higher values, and command in consequence fabulous prices.

This complexion of dietetic opinion has done more than reverence for churchly ordinance to turn the attention of buyers and consumers to Lenten observances. I quoted here years ago the illustration of two points of view from flesh foods for the period enjoined by more than one communion of Christians:

“You are keeping Lent, I see, William,” said a Presbyterian master to his coachman as the former stopped at the door of the cottage in which the man’s family was at dinner.

The table was simply spread with salt codfish and potatoes.

“Ah, well,” pursued the employer, thoughtfully, “I believe it would be well for all of us if we abstained from eating meat four days in the week as the spring comes on.”

William pulled at his forelock.

“Yes sir! But, if you please, sir, you’re meaning that it would be better for the body. We think it is better for the soul.”

“It’s difficult to separate the two,” said the other, pleasantly, and went his way.

The Semi-Vegetarian.

He was right. While the two hold together we shall never show how much religious melancholia is the offspring of indigestion, nor how much easier it is for one whose stomach gives him no trouble to be a saint than it is for the confirmed dyspeptic to be a tolerably decent citizen and family man.

Granted, then, that we do eat more meat than is wholesome for us all the year around, and particularly in springtime, when the digestive organs are jaded by caring for much fiber and salted fats for four months on a stretch, what shall we buy and eat in place of beef, mutton, pork, veal and poultry?

The semi-vegetarian is quick to reply with a list of seafoods. “Full of phosphates, tender of tissue and with no coarse blood corpuscles to clog the stomach! Look at the hardy Norsemen and the islanders who subsist almost entirely upon fish and bivalves! Fevers and kidney complications are unknown, etc., etc., etc!”

The thorough vegetarian holds, as one wrote to me the other day, that “a fish suffers as much in the killing as a warm-blooded creature.”—while anther “thanks God nightly that nothing He has made has died that she might live.” This real simon pure and thorough-paced vegetarian, is ready with a substitute for meat, fish and crustaceans.

The Abused Organs.

“Nuts!” he proclaims, “solve the food problem to the demonstration.” Eaten with salt, or with sugar, or plain as they came from the tree; ground into protose, in imitation of Hamburg steaks; moulded into croquettes and fried in vegetable oil or butter; pounded fine and blended with milk and butter into a puree—there is, he affirms, practically no end to the varieties and uses of them—the food God made to grow for the service of man. In desserts, they are of acknowledged worth the world over. The gourmand, surfelted by the beastly profusion of roasts, entrees, games and gravies, resort to nuts and raisins, to walnuts and wine, to restore tone to the abused organs. It is a natural taste—that for this staff of life. What child does not take to a nut tree as naturally and eagerly as a squirrel?

Beans, peas and cereals of all kinds vary his dietary, but nuts are the staple.

Fish, eggs, milk, nuts and green esculents—we have here the menu for our reformed dietary for 40 days to come. As a woman who has lived long and seen much of the planet upon which we live, I may ask humbly, respectfully, what is to be done for those of us who cannot drink milk regularly without growing bilious; those who dislike eggs and cannot digest them; the respectable minority to whom fish is generally rank poison; and the greater number of men and women, and especially children, with whom nuts disagree violently, when eaten in abundance?

That all these exceptions (if you choose to call them so) do exist, and some of them in force, I constantly affirm. There may be healthy human beings who cannot digest meat and to whom the taste is disagreeable. I sat out a dinner party next to one such once upon a time. There were 12 courses—all well cooked—and she dined upon a boiled potato and a water ice. But, then, she was an extremist who maintained that milk and its by-products, butter, are “animal matter.”

Let It Alone.

If this sound flippant, believe that it is written in very sober perplexity, as the Lenten season draws on apace. If church and hygiene concur in prescribing fish as part of daily food, in the place of flesh, with eggs as the alternative, it is the bounded duty of those whose digestive idiosyncrasies revolt at the suggestion to fight against aversion, based upon experience, and learn to eat fish and eggs? We have become uncomfortably familiar with the words “ptomaine poison” within the last few years. Stories of fish, kept in cold storage from September until April, then vended as “fresh,” have made us shy of marketed salmon, cold and halibut. Even if we can be sure that our breakfast eggs are not of the crated variety, we tire of the ovates after 50 or 60 repetitions.

I wish some of staff of physicians and nurses would let us have their honest verdict upon the nut craze. I have not exaggerated the claims made by vegetarians of a certain type, on behalf of these substitutes for flesh foods. In reading the argument adduced in support of said claims, I have been led to collect statistics from mothers and housewives relative to the wholesomeness of nuts. I am surprised to find how many report evil effects from free use of the “substitutes.” With some systems they induce constipation; several women agree in declaring that they have headaches always after parking heartily of them, and six mothers report that eating nuts produces what are sometimes called “cold sores,” and by some known as “fever blisters,” on the lips. I have known for a long time that I cannot indulge in Brazil nuts and English walnuts without suffering from an irritating rash, and that the outbreak of “fever blisters” about the lips is a warning signal that no more of the oily nutriment must be eaten for awhile. Raw chestnuts are notoriously unwholesome.

What is the conclusion of the whole matter? One thing is clear: It is presumptuous and irrational to ordain a fixed dietary for human creatures. The homely adage that “one man’s meat is another man’s bane” is as true as if it had been recorded in the Scriptures. In the same family, as mothers will testify, there are as many varieties of likings as there are children. I do not believe in pampering foolish fancies in ordering our bills of fare. Boys and girls should be trained to partake of what is set before them, asking no questions for civility’s sake. But, when a certain article of food disagrees with child or adult once and again, it is absolutely wrong—a sin against nature and health—for that person to eat it. Something in you wars against that particular combination of ingredients. Let it alone! Be it fish, flesh, fowl, eggs, or even “the one perfect food—milk!” Some imperfection in the individual makeup is antagonistic. Follow the teachings of Mother Nature, when you have assured yourself that it is she who is speaking, and not caprice.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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