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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/543

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latest debt to foreign observers. It may be hoped that the British Association, largely attended as it is by persons who would shrink from more ambitious scientific labors, will furnish some workers ready to do their country the very real service of recording such facts as they can collect about the economic habits of our own people, and so helping us to know ourselves.

Consider, for a moment, the consumption of food. To the ordinary English workman life would seem unendurable without white wheaten bread. Other forms of bread he knows there are, but he has unreasoning prejudices against wholemeal bread—the food of workhouses and prisons—and against rye bread or other kinds of bread, the food of foreigners. But in many parts of Europe the working classes have no bread. Cereals of some sort, prepared in some way, they of course employ. Wheat, oats, rye, barley, maize, buckwheat, even chestnuts, are used indifferently in different places, and rice and potatoes are among the substitutes. What is the relative value of these as foodstuffs, and what is the best mode of preparing them? The reasons which induced men in the middle ages to consume the cereals of their own neighborhood have been so much weakened by the cheapening of transport and the international specialization of industries, that the conservatism of food habits is brought into strong relief when we find neighboring peoples abandoning, first in town and then in country, marked distinctions of national costumes, but clinging everywhere to national differences of food. We are perhaps on the eve of considerable changes here. Two years ago an American economist told me in Boston that fruit had been the great ally of the workmen in a recent severe strike. There had been an exceptionally large crop of bananas, which were sold at one cent apiece, and the strikers had sustained themselves and their families almost entirely upon bananas at a trifling cost—very greatly below their usual expense for food. Returning to London I found bananas on sale in the streets for a halfpenny. No doubt they were consumed here in addition to, and not in substitution for, ordinary food; but they illustrate the fact that the foods of other latitudes are no longer the sole luxury of the rich, but are brought within the reach of all classes, and that our popular food habits need no longer be made to conform to the narrow range of former days, but may be put upon a wider rational basis. The vegetarians, largely dependent upon other countries, have recognized this. The chemist and the physiologist might give us great assistance in these matters. Most of the calculations which I have seen as to the constituents of foods, their heat-giving and nutritive properties, appear to ignore the greater or less facility with which the different foods are assimilated. It is surprising that rice, in some respects the most economical of all grains, needing no