WHAT SHALL WE EAT?*
[* Notes from a lecture delivered at Dublin in June last, under the auspices of the Irish Vegetarian Society.]
By. C. B. Rama Rao, M.D.
Assistant Professor in Madras Medical College.
Foods consist of four proximate principles: Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats and Inorganic Salts, and water.
The Fats can be derived either from the animal or the vegetable kingdom, but the Carbohydrates and organic Salts are derivable almost home to our minds, when sailors, in the early part of the last century, died in large numbers of Scurvy, a disease produced by a want in the system of organic Salts, such as the citrates, the tartrates and the maltase, which are derived from fresh vegetables and are necessary to enable the organism to carry on those incessant changes essential to life, and collectively termed metabolism. It is obvious, therefore, that a man subsisting on vegetable food alone can derive from it all the nourishment he needs, whereas a man living on flesh foods alone cannot maintain his body for any length of time without resorting to vegetable food.
Is Man a Carnivorous Animal?
From the study of the teeth and the stomach of man, attempts have been made to prove that he was destined to live on mixed food consisting of animal and vegetable substances. But more careful scrutiny shows that the type of teeth and organs in man in the same as that of the vegetarian anthropoid apes and monkeys, which in the scale of complexity of structure, come nearest to man.
The Hindu's Definition of "Vegetarianism.'
If I were asked to define Vegetarianism, I would say that it is a method of living which deprecates the killing of animals.
We, in India, go even farther. Our remote ancestors were flesh-eaters, but as religion and spirituality developed, they recognized that flesh was uncongenial and degrading. The upper classes in the North gave up flesh, but not fish. Those in the south, who number hundreds of thousands eschew flesh, fish, and even eggs, although they use milk and its products, such as butter, butter-milk, cream &c.
Settling the Question of Cruelty Done to Bulls, Cows and Calves by the Users of Milk.
The moral responsibility felt by the users of milk towards the animal that gives it is shown by the special care and attention which the cow and the calf receive in the humblest Hindu dwellings. They are cleaned, fed and otherwise looked after better than the pet race-horse in the stable of an aristocrat.
Are Animal Products Necessary for Man?
It is altogether another question whether these by-products are absolutely necessary. Both physiology and the experience of India prove that they are not. The peasant and the cultivator, though not prohibited by religion from using animal food, yet, as a matter of fact, in ninety-none cases out of every hundred, live on vegetarian food almost from year's end to year's end. Firstly, they are not partial to animal food, and, secondly, they cannot afford it, as it is much more costly to buy flesh than to buy flour or grain. These cultivators are too poor to buy milk and butter. It is a luxury reserved for festive occasions. Cheap vegetable oils, such as the Gingili oil and Coconut oil, supply them with fat.
The Natural Physiological Balance of Food Elements.
Just as Nature supplies the vital element of oxygen in a dilute condition in the atmosphere, so we find the protein of food diluted with a varying but large proportion of starch in the numerous cereals or grains.
Does Vegetarian Diet support the Mental Powers?
It cannot be contended that animal food does not make men more intelligent than does a vegetable diet, for the Brahmins of South India, who do not even use eggs have shown themselves not a poor match for the Europeans.
Cambridge University records that in spite of great religious, social and pecuniary disadvantages, a number of strict vegetarians from India have acquitted themselves creditably, while several have become Senior Wranglers.
I have witnessed a Pandit go through the performances of seven simultaneous mental acts and, there are other and even more startling kinds of mental processes, degrees of concentration and clearness of mental activity which can be shown by scores of Indian scholars who do not know a word of any European language. This is an example of intellect reared on vegetarian fare. I wish I were competent to show you at least a glimpse of the thoughts, reasoning's and deductions in the region of philosophy, in which English and German thinkers, like Monier Williams and Sir Edwin Arnold, say Indians excel. Those who are spiritually inclined will find abundant food for reflection and assimilation in the Sacred Books of the East, expounding the Unitarian Philosophy of Sankara, or the Dualism of Kaminga – both of which are vegetarian.
Vegetarian Diet and Physical Powers.
It may be said that Vegetarian food, though sufficient and efficient for intellectual purposes, is not equal to developing the muscle. This doubt where it shall exist, is easily expelled by watching the phenomenal strength of elephants, who can, by their trunks uproot trees which require dozens of men to lift. What animal can lift the weights carried by the grass-eating camel? What carnivorous animal can excel in swiftness or elegance, the lightning-like flashes of the stag? Thinking of men themselves, are not most farmers, at least in India vegetarians? Does not the Brahmin youth in school games and athletic sports take the first or second place in a crowd of mixed competitors? Has not the Madras U. C. Cricket team, chiefly composed of Hindus, given a beating several times to the English team in their own national game? I could go on multiplying instances, but the few cited ought to be enough to convince any unprejudiced mind.
Take your stand opposite a butchers shop, and then quickly pass on and contrast the appearance of this and a fruit's shop. You cannot escape the gore and filth, the grease and hideousness of the one, nor fail to be attracted by the pleasant flavor, and the delicate and the sweet aroma of the fruits which greet you; and even if you are naturally morose, they send a wave of pleasant and exhilarating sensations which seem intended by Nature to raise and purify our minds.
We next pass to the kitchen. Nay, we need not even enter it. A joint is being roasted and the penetrating and sickening odor is enough to give a headache even to a flesh-eater. Contrast this with the smells and sight of a vegetarian kitchen.
Objections Raised Against Vegetarianism.
It is said that in the Arctic Zone vegetable cannot be produced. Surely if men can live there, vegetables can grow there. Man wraps himself in the woolen clothing and has artificial heart at the fireside. Glass houses artificially heated can surely grow green vegetables and grains, and wheat flour &c can be carried there and stored for years. This keeping property of dry grains, without its undergoing putrefaction is yet an additional proof that Nature intends that we should live on grains.
It is said that a purely vegetarian diet is indigestible. Do all people in India suffer from indigestion or does dyspepsia bulk more largely in the hospital registers in India than in Europe? It is one of those gratuitous epithets flung carelessly by the uncritical mind.
It may be that some flesh-eaters, adopting a vegetarian diet, may suffer to a slight extent, but the human organism is so constituted that it can adapt itself to any surrounding, otherwise how can you explain the fact that the hundred and odd Indian students who were born and bred in places where the thermometer stands in the shade higher than blood heat throughout the great part of the year, are able to stand the Scottish winter as well as the Scotchmen themselves? The excess of heat can only scorch the surface and darken the skin, but it cannot alter human nature.
Three Dentists for 5,00,000 Inhabitants!
In investigating diet, it would be interesting to enquire how it is that the teeth of men here are so often and so widely diseased, while the vegetarian Indians suffer so little from bad teeth. Madras, for instance, with her 500,000 inhabitants supports but three dentists, while here one seems to be necessary for every lane I think the use of animal food is partly the cause of it.
Effect of a Flesh Diet on the Craving for Stimulants.
I must also raise my voice against flesh eating, because a flesh diet tends to create an appetite for liquor which is a poison and not a drink. Water is consequently despised by the flesh-eater, as was shown by the deck-attendant, who replied, when I asked for water "Gentlemen don't drink water."
The Herald of Health.