International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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2nd International Vegetarian Congress 1890
London, England

from The Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester), January, 1891, pp.35-42:

THE STAFF OF LIFE.
A Paper read at the International Vegetarian Congress, by Miss May Yates:
printed by kind permission if the Vegetarian Federal Union.

WHOLE wheatmeal bread is so generally considered the basis of all food reform, that an attack on its value appears to shake the main foundations of our faith. Having, however, re-examined the grounds of our belief, determined to follow the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (even if it should lead us to abandon our dearest conviction), we are still, I think, convinced that whole wheatmeal bread is a real staff, which will well support us through the journey of life.

The first ground of complaint brought against it is, that it contains a large proportion of starch, and that starch is unfit for human food, as it entails a long, vital-force wasting, process of digestion, and that the use of foods containing it produces diabetes, obesity, and constipation.

As regards this first statement, no distinction is drawn between the artificial starchy foods, white bread, &c., and whole grains. The natural proportion of starch is altered in the artificial foods, and they are also deprived of the natural ferments, diastase and cerealine, which have the property of promoting the digestion of starch. Although these artificial starchy foods may have an injurious effect on many constitutions, that is no proof that the natural whole grains have the same effect. In fact it is well known that nations who live principally on these foods in a natural form are not distinguished by that obesity which they are said to produce.

The principal fallacy, in this first assertion, is, however, based on imperfect knowledge of the modern researches on digestion. The experiments made by Richet and Defresne show that the starch undergoes a preliminary saccharification in the mouth, that this process continues in the stomach, and that as the action of the "gastric juice is at first feeble, the ptyalin contained in the human saliva is able to accomplish a certain amount of work.'

This modern theory is endorsed by the following eminent authorities Sir W. Roberts, M.D., F.R.S., Dr. W. B. Carpenter, C.B., F.R.S., Dr. M. Foster, F.R.S., Professor Hermann, Dr. William Draper, Dr. Flint, Drs. Yeo, Biddes, Bücke, and Professor Gamgee, M.D., F. R.S. Dr. Anna Kingsford has pointed out that "the secretions of the economy vary with the nature of the alimentation," and it is therefore possible that the ptyalin of the human saliva may be stronger and the acidity of the gastric juice less in those who are habitually Vegetarians, and that the preliminary digestion of starchy substances would thus in Vegetarian feeders be accelerated.

There would, however, of course, be a certain proportion of starch to be digested in the secondary digestion. Messrs. Wanklyn and Cooper state, that the digestion of a portion of the starch foods in the intestinal tube renders them specially sustaining. as "such food becomes active several hours after it has been eaten, and thus continuous nutrition is compatible with intermittent feeding." The statement that this is a 'vital-force wasting digestion" shows great ignorance of modern research, for Dr. Yeo states that the pancreatic juice is one of the most important and energetic digestive juices of the body, and that the amglopeptic ferment in it acts with great activity on starch, and that "the change is effected almost at once." Kühne and Schutzenbergen state that the transformation is "almost instantaneous;" whilst Dr. Dobell speaks of the "almost miraculous celerity and completeness of the action of the pancreas."

In July I challenged Dr. Densmore to give the name of any of the eminent medical authorities that he said confirmed his statement that the use of cereals and pulses was a great strain on the digestion. This challenge has never been replied to. We must suppose that Dr. Densmore alone represents the physicians of all schools who argue on this point.

Surely the presence in the human digestion of the ferments specially adapted for the digestion of starch is a sign that that starch is an elemental portion of human food, for as has been even admitted in the articles referred to "the Divine architect in contriving the several organs of the body has necessarily adapted that organism to a procurable food."

With regard to the statement that diabetes and obesity are distinctly traceable to the use of starchy foods, it is generally believed that "diabetes is primarily due to changes commencing in the nervous system." Apart from this, any argument against the use of cereals and pulses, based on this ground, would apply with equal force to the fruits advocated, for the sugar contained in such large quantities in bananas, figs and dates, is excluded with even greater rigour than starch from the dietaries for diabetes and obesity.

As to constipation being produced by cereals, it is well known that artificial starchy foods have this effect, but it is also generally recognised that oatmeal and whole wheatmeal will completely cure this evil. In fact, it will probably be ascertained that the evils resulting from the use of starch, to which Dr. Densmore directs attention, are mainly caused by artificial preparations of this food.

Dr. Densmore accounts for the fact that some persons cannot digest nuts and fruit, by stating that "pathological stomachs" cannot assimilate them, but that "physiological" ones can; whilst the same circumstance, with regard to cereals and pulses, is a reason for discarding them entirely as human food. This is manifestly absurd, for, as the old proverb says, "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

The second charge brought against the use of cereals is that they are a man-developed product, and that the frugivorous apes (to which class it is said that man belongs) live on nuts and fruit, and not on any product having any similarity to the cereals. This argument would exclude all cultivated plants and all the appliances of civilisation. Man's intellect, when used in harmony with God's laws, can only improve and benefit humanity. Cereals and pulses are fruits in the truly botanical meaning, namely, that which contains the seed, and are therefore adapted for the frugivorous races. Monkeys have not had the intellect to cultivate them themselves, but they have no objection, even in their wild, natural state, to using them, when raised by man, for, as the Rev. J. G. Wood states, the Chimpansees "are very unprofitable neighbours to anyone who has had the misfortune to raise crops of rice, etc., within an easy journey of a Chimpansee settlement."

It is also stated as a reason for abandoning the use of the cereals that uncooked foods are the natural aliment of man, but as it is not yet proved that man thrives best on uncooked foods, this point might be left for the present.

Artificial raw starch is more difficult to saccharify than boiled starch, but in the cereals the starch is associated with a ferment which is in a high state of activity at the temperature of the human body. It has been asserted that the human saliva has no effect on raw starch, but if any one will apply the iodine test to cracked wheat, steeped in cold water, and then to some which has been well masticated, the reaction will show that a distinct change has taken place in the starch. As the other digestive fluids are much more energetic than the saliva, there appears no reason why healthy Vegetarian digestions, in which, as I have before stated, probably these ferments are in a more active condition, should not be able to digest raw cereals and pulses.

As regards the assertion that people dislike them, I would point out that it is well known that nothing is so easily altered as human taste. I myself personally find nothing objectionable in the taste of raw wheat, whilst fresh green peas are, I think, quite as nice as, if not nicer than, nuts.

It is no new theory to advocate the use of uncooked cereals, for Gustav Schlickeysen states that, "even as late as the time of the Roman Republic, the baking or other cooking of grain was regarded as injurious." The dried cereals and pulses would present difficulties to teeth which, as Professor Nicholson points out, have been weakened and degenerated by the use of cooked food for thousands of years but this might be overcome by using them in a fresh, soft condition. When the advocates of uncooked food have definitely proved, by practical experience, that it has the advantages they claim for it, science could soon, by means of refrigeration, glass, &c., provide constant supplies of fresh cereals and pulses, which could be easily masticated and digested by the majority of healthy people.

The fourth reason given for abandoning the use of the cereals is based on Sir W. De Lacy Evans's statement that the cereals are most apt of all foods to induce earthy deposits in the system, and thereby cause ossification of the joints and tissue. I will first call attention to the fact that Sir W. De Lacy Evans appears to think that earthy matter is only required for the growth and nourishment of the bones whereas recent authorities show that (as Dr. Yeo states in his book on "Foods"), "there is no tissue that does not contain lime (chiefly phosphate); and it would seem that cell growth cannot go on without it." Whilst Mr. M. F. Anderson states in " Phosphates in Nutrition" that " the brain, nerves, and soft tissues all contain the same inorganic materials, lime, magnesia, potash, soda, chlorine and phosphoric acid, but there is a large excess of phosphoric acid in the brain and nerves." Sir W. De Lacy Evans himself says that "phosphorus plays a more important action in the animal economy than has heretofore been supposed; and thought, the mind itself, many actions with which the mind has no connection, and volition and common sensation, are ultimately connected with the presence of phosphorous in the cerebro-spinal axis." Now, the principal characteristic of the mineral matter found in the cereals is a large proportion of this phosphoric acid, and a small proportion of earthy substance.

The statement that the cereals contain a large amount of earthy matter is mainly based on such antiquated analysis as those of Pereirea, whilst recent analysis by such eminent authorities as Dr. Wynter Blyth, Professor Church, F.R.S., Dr. E. Wolff, and Messrs. Wanklyn and Cooper, show that this statement is quite untrue. When combined with a sufficient amount of the fresh fruit, which maintains the mineral element in a soluble condition, there is not the slightest danger of the ossifications with which we are threatened. Nuts and fruit may satisfy hunger and maintain physical strength, in the case monkeys, but it is no test of their adaptability for human food when they are combined with a large amount of milk and eggs. They are not suited to form the chief food for civilised people, whose brains and nerves are subjected to the intense strain of modern days. A careful examination of the analyses mentioned will show, that these fruits contain a large proportion of earthy substances, and less phosphoric acid than a properly selected diet of cereals, pulses, nuts, and fruits. But experience shows a healthy organism can find every element for the maintenance of a strong, vigorous life in a welt-chosen dietary of grains, pulse, nuts, and fresh vegetables, but there is no example of a civilised nation subsisting for any length of time on an exclusive diet of fruit and nuts.

As Sir W. De Lacy Evans quoted principally such antiquated analyses as those of Pereira, I insert the following analyses of the mineral constituent of some cereals, pulses, nuts and fruits, taken from "Bread Analysis" by Wanklyn and Copper, "Foods" by Dr. Wynter Blyth and Aschen-Analysen von Landwirsn" by Dr. E. Wolff. As percentages themselves are rather misleading, I have also given the amount of mineral matter contained in a pound of the different articles, taken from "Food," by Professor Church, F.R.S.

WHEAT.
One pound contains 119 grains of mineral matter of which the following analysis is given by Wanklyn and Cooper.

Potash 29.35
Soda 1.1
Lime 3.4
Magnesia 10.7
Phosphate of Iron and Alumina 2.4
Silica 2.5
Phosphoric Acid 49.7
Chlorine 0.13

MAIZE
One pound of maize contains 140 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by A. Wynter Blythe.

Potash 21.73
Soda 5.50
Lime 3.20
Magnesia 11.20
Ferric Oxide 1.23
Phosphoric Acid 53.68
Sulphuric Acid 0.62
Silica 2.7
Chlorine 0.10

LENTILS
One pound of lentils contains 210 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by A. Wynter Blythe

Potash 34.76
Soda 13.50
Lime 6.34
Magnesia 2.47
Ferric Oxide 2.00
Phosphoric Acid 36.30
Chlorine 4.63

PEAS
One pound of peas contains 210 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by A. Wynter Blythe

Potash 42.79
Soda 0.96
Lime 4.99
Magnesia 7.96
Ferric Oxide 0.86
Phosphoric Acid 36.43
Sulphuric Acid 3.61
Silica 0.86
Chlorine 1.54

ALMONDS
One pound of almonds contains 105 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by E. Wolff.

Potash 27.95
Soda 0.23
Lime 8.81
Magnesia 17.66
Ferric Oxide 0.55
Phosphoric Acid 43.63
Sulphuric Acid 0.37
Silica 0.0
Chlorine 0.0

WALNUTS
One pound of walnuts contains 119 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by E. Wolff.

Potash 31.11
Soda 2.25
Lime 8.59
Magnesia 13.03
Ferric Oxide 1.32
Phosphoric Acid 43.70
Sulphuric Acid 0.0
Silica 0.0
Chlorine 0.0

FIGS
One pound of figs contains 161 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by E. Wolff.

Potash 28.36
Soda 26.27
Lime 18.91
Magnesia 9.21
Ferric Oxide 1.46
Phosphoric Acid 1.30
Sulphuric Acid 6.75
Silica 5.93
Chlorine 2.69

APPLES
One pound of apples contains 28 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by E. Wolff.

Potash 35.58
Soda 26.09
Lime 4.08
Magnesia 8.75
Ferric Oxide 1.40
Phosphoric Acid 13.59
Sulphuric Acid 6.09
Silica 4.32
Chlorine 0.0

MILK
One pound of milk contains 72 grains of mineral matter, of which the following analysis is given by A. Wynter Blyth.

Potash 24.67
Soda 9.70
Lime 22.0
Magnesia 3.05
Ferric Oxide 0.53
Phosphoric Acid 28.45
Sulphuric Acid 0.30
Chlorine 14.24

Lime and magnesia are the pirnciple constituents of the earthy substances to which Dr. De Lacy Evans refers.

The above analysis show that from a pound of wheat is obtained 59.1 grains of phosphoric acid, and only 4 grains of lime, and 12.7 grains of magnesia, and there is still a larger proportion of phosphoric acid in maize. A pound of lentils contains 76.2 grains of phosphoric acid , 13.3 grains of lime, and 5.1 grains of magnesia, whilst in a pound of almonds there are only 45.8 grains of phosphoric acid, to 9.2 grains of lime, and 18.5 grains of magnesia. A pound of dried figs contains 44 grains of lime, and magnesia, and only 2 grains of phosphoric acid, whilst a pound of apples contains 3.5 grains of lime and magnesia, and only 3.8 grains of phosphoric acid.

It has been brought forward as a proof of the sufficiency of a fruit diet that there is a "grape cure," and that dates are the Arabs' staff of life.

With regard to the grape cure it generally consists of the addition of a large amount of grapes to the ordinary diet, and in those exceptional cases where scarcely any other food than grapes was allowed it was found to act in the way of a solvent or starvation cure, and is certainly no argument in favour of a fruit diet. In fact it has been noticed that if labourers in the vintage in Sicily eat little else besides grapes they lose strength. Having myself seen the vintage of Sicily, I can testify that although the labourers ate as many grapes as they liked, they had also two substantial meals, one of wholemeal bread and olive oil, and a second of haricot beans and oil. On this diet they were strong and active, vigorous and cheerful, and showed no signs of the premature decrepitude with which we are threatened.

Having also stayed in Egypt, I know that an essential part of the wandering Bedaween's tent is the mill-stone, with which the women can be seen preparing the wheat, which they afterwards bake into flat cakes. Dates are, of course. Largely consumed, but the Arabs' appreciation of the value of bread is shown by its title, which is not, as with us, merely staff of life," but, more emphatically, "aesh," which means ''life."

Man cannot, however, live healthily on bread alone,* and the principal benefit of this discussion will have been that people have had their attention directed to the great value of fresh fruit and nuts. This has not been sufficiently realised, and, probably, many failures in Vegetarianism are due to people neglecting these foods.

When people are askel to make a radical change in their diet, they have the right to expect careful considered arguments and an accurate statement of facts, but the attack on the cereals and pulse is based on such fallacious reasoning and on such imperfect knowledge, that a worse fate must befall it than that of those who built on sand.

In conclusion, I will ask you to especially remember that the principal mineral element of the cereal is phosphoric acid, which is so essential for mental development that a celebrated German has observed, "No phosphorus, no thought." When you consider, therefore, that neglect of the cereals may entail, although unperceived by yourselves, a gradual process of mental deterioration, I earnestly hope that you will not abandon the use of the real Staff of Life, whose claim to honour is founded on the experience of ages, and confirmed by science, whose use is sanctified by the prayers of millions and consecrated as the holiest symbol of religion.


*Dr. Allinson's experiment of a month's diet of wheatmeal cake, made with water, would seem to show that it is possible to live healthily on bread alone, if the bread is of the right kind. - Ed.