It would be absurd to deny that among the confirmed Vegetarians there are good men, though meagre. That not all of them are free from the tyranny of chronic indigestion may account for, and perhaps should excuse, some of their dietetic vagaries. For example, Señor Eusebius Santos, who is now browsing in the public parks and on the friendly lawns of Havana, explains that he limits his diet exclusively to grass in the hope of curing an obstinate dyspepsia, headaches, and insomnia. In this liberal age it is no just cause of quarrel that persons limit their eating to garden products, or even to the provender of a mad Nebuchadnezzar.
Still, there are some fallacies of the cult which are so amazing and unnatural as to reek of ingratitude to a generous Providence. To declare, for instance, that eating is a humiliating necessity, to be done behind the door and with a sense of degradation, is to insult the choice souls who have made a patient and loving study of the sublime art of dining. To affirm that man should eat to live, not live to eat, choosing his few simple viands entirely for their tissue-building qualities and not at all for their palatal virtues, is to rebuke Nature for the beneficent care with which she has varied the alluring flavors of her meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Persons who are insensible to the delights of a rich and varied menu may well be suspected of surreptitious methods of propagating their peculiar doctrines. The insidious hand of the Vegetarian missionary may be detected in publications of the very Government itself, the purpose being to popularize the idea that meats are not necessary to man, but injurious and immoral; and, also, that to find pleasure in eating is low. Bulletin No. 142, of the Department of Agriculture at Washington, is one of the official documents which urge on the American people a dietary from which all animal food is sternly excluded and which gives little opportunity or desire for pleasure in its consumption.
The head of the Department does not look like a man who would quail before a beefsteak, or like one who regards eating as a mere duty. It is incredible that he would suggest a dietary of “corn-bread, wheat bread, rye, oats, and rice,” with the assurance that “men who feed on these exclusively are capable of enduring the hardest manual labor.” Presumably it was without his knowledge and consent that the endorsement of the General Government has, apparently, been given to Vegetarian principles, — unless, indeed, the Federal war on the Western meat combine is extra-judicial, also. However that may be, the pamphlet might well bear as its motto Mr. Bumble’s explanation of Oliver Twist’s blasphemy: “It is not madness; it’s meat!” Well, too, might the pamphlet plead, with entire consistency, for the general adoption of the dietary proposed by the Vegetable Beneficial Association of America, which goes to the root of the matter. It is this: —
“Dry crushed or rolled oats or wheat, eaten with a little salt to flavor, will (if thoroughly masticated) furnish all the nourishment any person needs.”
Here is no eating for pleasure, but strictly for business. Here is the struggle for existence reduced to its simplest terms. Does hunger oppress, a man has but to slip into the nearest stable, produce his salt-bottle, and join the horses at the manger in their nourishing repast; chewing a little hay, perhaps, by way of dessert. On a special occasion it might not be ostentatious or extravagant to add a bran mash to the modest bill of fare.
It must have been with a strictly Vegetarian menu in hand that the President of the New York Vegetarian Society declared: “Eating is not a pleasant or elevating subject; eating is a task, to be performed with as little thought as possible.” Persons who take pleasure in dining, and particularly those whose dinners include meats (“ the dead bodies of the slaughtered”) are classed as “the hyenas and wolves of life” by the chief of “the Order of the Golden Age.”
Eating not a pleasant, not an elevating, subject ? No subject under the blue canopy, no subject to be found between the covers of the fattest encyclopædia, is more worthy of the deepest and the highest and most sustained thoughts of man. And probably no other subject receives half the attention which is given to eating. Nothing has been more important in the progress of the race than the additions to the variety of man’s food. In his primitive state a mere clam-eater, he was hardly superior to the beasts that perish. When he became a hunter, seeking the strong meats of wild game, he developed new qualities, expanded intellectually, and gained in energy, enterprise, and endurance. Then came the pastoral and agricultural age, with an acquired taste for vegetable growths, and the dawn of civilization. Every advance has been on the heels of something new to eat. Today the teeth of man declare him to be omnivorous, though vegetable food is still a heavy tax on his powers of digestion. He lacks those multiple gastric arrangements by the aid of which the cow, for example, is able to subsist on vegetable food alone. This lack Señor Santos will discover and deplore long before he shall acquire that meditative cud, the mastication of which gives to the cow the serenity and repose which is the object of the Spaniard’s grazing.
The right of a man to pleasure himself at table is, of course, as clear as any other human right. Also it is a duty, since only food which pleases the palate can stimulate the digestive juices to a copious flow. The incomparable “Christopher North,” of the ambrosial nights, declared that no other pleasure of life can be compared with eating. He observed that as men grow older they love their victuals more, finding at table the unfailing delight which is never yielded by love, wealth, or fame. Like all great men, he proclaimed his enmity to fast days. To him it was significant that the gods are always represented as feasting. It is amazing that there should be persons, free from the anguish of dyspepsia, who have no sense of the charm of a well-laid table. Great poets have found in it an inspiring theme, while masters in painting have decorated its delicate wares to fit them as receptacles of the many enticing things offered by the earth, the air, and the sea to ravish the palate and nourish the body of man. Not to rejoice in the many, and wonderful products of the chef’s skill is to forfeit a perpetual joy. It is the banquet, the feast, which gives birth to eloquence, surprising the speaker no less than those whose souls thrill under its magic. It is not for courtesy alone that every congress of men, whatever its business, closes with a gathering around the banquet board. Here, as nowhere else, quarrels are forgotten, grievances dissipated, sympathies awakened, and friendships cemented. Man is never at his best save when under the influence of that feeling of repletion and satisfaction which a long, varied, and artistic course dinner gives. This fact is known of every wife, and is her sure resource in a time of peril.
True, Vegetarians may be, often are, good men; but no one will contend that they are jolly. For steady companionship the redoubtable feeders are to be preferred, — men whom neither roast nor pudding can intimidate. Who would not choose to hold cheerful converse with the matchless eupeptic, Sydney Smith, rather than sit under the glooming of the saturnine Carlyle, whose digestion was wrecked by simple porridge ? Never was there a more efficient stomach than that of the merry parson, the habitual diner-out, whose buoyant spirits and good humor always charmed. His brilliant wit prevented his elevation to a bishopric, but it made him an ever-welcome and dominant guest at the tables of the great. Contrast with this bright spirit the scolding Carlyle, who disliked eating almost as much as he disliked his friends. The difference was chiefly due to their diverse views of the matter of eating. Lord Holland went so far as to assert that “some men are better and abler than others because they eat more.”
It is fortunate for the race that, whether they admit it or not, whether they know it or not, most persons live mainly to eat, and show little concern about the nutritive value of their food. They eat what they like, so far as they can afford it.