Macfadden's Fasting, Hydropathy and Exercise/CHAPTER III
A "fast," in the language of the medieval churchmen, generally implied the interdition of special kinds of food, and, in that sense of the word, almost every creed of ancient and modern times prescribes periods of total abstinence. The Rhamadan, or Lenten season, of the Mohammedans, has to be observed for a couple of months, though the casuists of the Koran allow travelers and busy laborers to shorten the term by lengthening the list of forbidden viands. The successors of Joe Smith prohibit alcoholic stimulants to all but invalids, and Zoroaster interdicts wine and "soma-juice"—probably some opiate—to those who can procure more wholesome tonics.
The Pythagoreans went further and tabooed wine altogether. Strict followers of the sect (whose "philosophy" was to all purposes a religion) abstained also from flesh food and, for some never wholly explained reason, from beans. Peter Bayle surmised some figurative significance of that tenet—beans of various colors being used for political ballots, but Pliny distinctly states that the mere touch of the plant was considered a defilement, and that in the war against Sybaris a squad of orthodox Pythagoreans allowed themselves to be cut to pieces, rather than seek safety in a bean-field.
That doctrine would not have flourished in Boston, though its apostle enjoyed the reputation of a Trismegistus—a past-master of wisdom, and was supposed to have entered Olympus by some gate closed to mortals of ordinary intelligence.
Both the Buddhists and Brahmans enjoin total abstinence from flesh-food, and Sir William Jones attests the fact that starving Hindus "declined to save their lives by sacrificing those of their dumb fellow-creatures."
In all those cases the interdict had a moral significance. Wine clouds the mind that should seek to obtain glimpses of a brighter world. Flesh food stimulates the animal passions, and certainly excites combativeness. A diet of bull beef imbued our North American Redskins with the ferocity of carnivorous beasts, while their banana-eating kinsmen of Southern Mexico are as placid as Hindus.
But a large number of dietetic restrictions might be recommended from a purely physical point of view. Alcohol is a liver-poison and aggravates the virulence of many diseases so unmistakably that its victims have hardly a right to complain of chronic disorders. Theirs are ailments perpetuated by a chronic provocation of the cause, and not apt to appeal to the sympathy of total abstainers any more than the afflictions of trichinosis could evoke the fears of a pork-abhoring Jew.
Drunkards, it is true, plead their "willingness to reform if the flesh were not stronger than the spirit." Temperance preachers descant on the dangers of worldly temptations and selfish indulgences, or the lusts of unregenerate hearts as if our natural appetites were tempting us to our ruin. Nay, the stimulant vice has found learned defenders; the followers of Paracelsus have worshiped the man-devouring fire as a sacred flame; for thousands of honest truth-seekers the disagreement of doctors makes it doubtful if alcohol is a friend or a foe, a health-giving tonic or a death-dealing poison. Is that uncertainty not a proof that in one most important respect Nature has failed to insure the welfare of her creatures?
What it really proves is this: That habitual sin has blunted our physical conscience till we have not only ceased to heed, but ceased to understand, the protests of our inner monitor. It proves that the victims of vice have so utterly forgotten the language of their instincts that they are no longer able to distinguish a natural appetite from a morbid appetency.
For it might be questioned if the instinctive horror of carrion is stronger than a normal man's aversion to the first taste of alcohol. To the palate of an unseduced youngster brandy is intensely repulsive, lager beer as nauseous as sewer swill; wine is simply spoiled musk, as unattractive as acidulated sugar-water. Is it Nature's fault that these health-protecting instincts can be perverted by a deliberate and ever-repeated disregard of their warning? Or can flesh-gluttons ("corpse-eaters" the editor of the Vegetarian calls them) plead the weakness of Nature, the lures of the flesh and the devil?"
Without spices and kitchen tricks animal food would not tempt the progeny of Adam to any damaging extent. "If I didn't want people to eat my apples I wouldn't lock them up in my orchard," says an irreverent critic of Genesis; but I do believe that an unperverted child could be locked up with a couple of helpless lambs, and that, like Sir William's Hindus, it would lie down and die, sooner than save its life by sacrificing that of its dumb fellow-creatures. For, quite aside from moral scruples, the protests of instinct would prevent. Starvation—hunger intensified to the degree of fearful torture—would fail to overcome the natural aversion to the taste of raw (i.e., undisguised) flesh food.
And cooking cannot destroy all the disease-germs which the "corpse-eater" transfers to his own body. The task of assimilating wolf-food is an affront to our digestive organs. Our stomachs, bowels, and teeth are those of a fruit-eating creature.
"Don't you think there is something objectionable about a draughty bedroom window in this changeable climate of ours?" a Connecticut foggy asked Dio Lewis.
"That's just my opinion," said the facetious doctor; "in ninety-nine out of a hundred cases the draught isn't near strong enough."
And the main objection to ecclesiastic fasts is the circumstance that they were rarely persistent enough. "Fasting," i.e., abstaining from meat on Friday and for a few weeks in early spring can hardly be expected to undo the mischief of two hundred and seventy-five carnivorous days.
Our instinct-guided Darwinian kinsmen are frugal in the original sense of the word; i.e., subsist chiefly on tree-fruit, but have no objection to eggs, and vegetarians of the Alcott school may have prejudiced their cause by prohibiting eggs, milk, and all kinds of fat, as well as meat.
But in midsummer it would certainly often be a good plan to stick to an Alcott menu for a few weeks. Faire maigre (literally, "make lean") the French call fasting, but adopt their Lenten fare at the wrong time of the year. The idea of insisting on three daily meals of greasy, apopleptic, heat-aggravating viands is preposterous at a season that makes the struggle for existence a fight against a fever-heat atmosphere; nor is there any real need for "something warm" three times a day. We might as well aggravate the grievance of a blizzard with artificial refrigerants, or swallow opiates while imploring heaven for strength to watch and pray. Perpetual Lents, modified by an occasional omelette, are not incompatible with perfect comfort, and total abstainer from stimulants should sign a pledge against tea and coffee, while they are about it.
Only unnatural appetencies have no natural limits, and a combination of dietetic restrictions with the one-meal plan would enable us to dispense with the sickening cant of the saints who ask us to make our dinners as many ordeals for the exercise of self-denial. "It would justify suicide," says an educational reformer, "if this world of ours were really arranged on the diabolic plan of making every gratification of our natural instincts injurious."
"Stop eating whenever the taste of a special dish tempts you to unusual indulgence." . . . "In saying grace, add in silence a pledge to prove your self-control;" "test the superiority of moral principles to physical appetites," and similar apothegms recall the time when moralists tried to earn heaven by trampling the strawberry patches of earth and obtain forgiveness for eating at all by mixing their food with a decoction of wormwood. "Stop eating when you relish your food more than usually?" Nego et pernego! We might as well tell a health-seeker to refrain from sleep when he feels specially drowsy.
"Regulate the quality of your meals and let the quantity take care of itself," is a far more sensible rule. Wholesome food rarely tempts us to indulge to excess. We do not often hear of milk topers or baked-apple gluttons.
"Do not eat till you have leisure to digest," but after a fast-day, and with all night for digestion and assimilation, do not insult Nature by being afraid to eat your fill of wholesome food. If a combination of exceptional circumstances should, nevertheless, result in a surfeit, do not rush to the shop of the bluepill vender, but try the effect of a longer fast.
"Every disease that afflicts mankind is a constitutional possibility developed into disease by more or less habitual eating in excess of the supply of gastric juices!
"The sense of taste then, you see, as you have not quite realized before, exists for a two-fold purpose. (1.) To indicate the precise food needed to restore the wastes of muscle energy, and (2.) that there shall be no mistakes made, the needed food is to be the most keenly relished. Now with this to guide you hereafter you will not need to study the science of food analysis, if you so allow your appetite to develop that Nature can order the bill of fare out loud with the clearest enunciation."—E. H. Dewey, M.D.