Dora B. Montefiore, New Age March 1903
Source: New Age, p.154-5, 5 March 1903;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Since writing on the subject of the better supply of pure and unadulterated food for the people, I have been inundated with correspondence and literature from vegetarians; and one enthusiastic correspondent states that he means to watch my column, and see if I take advantage of his hints, and propaganda vegetarianism. I am very grateful, let me assure him and others for the hints and the literature, but I do not feel yet impelled to undertake a vegetarian crusade. I am weighing arguments, and watching results for and against. I am testing things for myself and for those about me, and I am trying to get at some sane and unprejudiced decision as to the advantages and disadvantages of a wholly non meat diet. Meanwhile, I will gladly admit I go the length of allowing that we eat far too much meat, and that meat often of an inferior quality: that the health-giving qualities of properly cooked vegetables and of fresh fruit are not sufficiently understood and recognised; and that for people past middle age a carefully selected dietary, from which can be eliminated food likely to form poisonous deposits of uric acid in the system, is of great importance. Generalisations are always dangerous, end in this matter of the choice of a flesh or non-flesh dietary, it seems to me that the one thing to be avoided is hasty generalisation, or the use of arguments founded solely on personal experience. The old axiom, that what is one man’s food is another man’s poison, seems to hold entirely good in this controversy, and our only safe ground at present is to strive to bring unadulterated bread and dairy produce, fresh fruit and vegetables, and meat, absolutely above suspicion, within the reach of everyone.
As regards the argument that because monkeys can live on nuts and fruit, therefore we can do the same, it is interesting to note that a French doctor, who recently had a large number of monkeys under his care, attempted, by feeding them partly on meat, to arrest the very high mortality amongst them. The results of his experiment were most satisfactory, and by giving a small quantity of meat he succeeded in greatly improving the health of all his Simian charges. I have also seen marked improvement in the health of children after meat and gravy being allowed once a day as a change from milk and cereal food. Those who live much in the open air, and who make little demands through study or intellectual pursuits on their nervous system, can undoubtedly do with much less meat than can town dwellers, and those on whom the strain of life is greater; and we must also remember that though we can obtain the necessary amount of protein from nitrogenous vegetables, eggs, milk, and artificially prepared foods, yet meat is the most highly concentrated and digestible form in which many people can take their protein, and assimilate it; and further that without sufficient protein we sicken and die.
Whilst we are waiting for our municipal bakehouses, from which our bread shall be delivered each morning to every house, just as our letters are delivered, it may be as well for the modern housewife to know something of the conditions under which the loaves she buys are kneeded and baked. An. article in the Hospital of February supplies on this subject some useful information. Underground bakeries are still allowed by law, but after January 1904 all existing ones will have to be done away with, unless the owners can prove to the District Council of the neighbourhood that their premises “are suitable as regards construction, ventilation, and in all other respects.” This sounds too vague for practical purposes, especially in view of the fact that people’s ideas as to ventilation differ so widely, as witness the general atmosphere of Board schools, railway carriages, and most public halls and places of amusement. It is also difficult to understand (except in the light of the worship paid to the god “vested interest “) why underground bakehouses, which are well known to everyone who has studied the question to be horribly unsanitary and unsavoury. should not be legally swept away, without leaving such plausible loop-holes of escape. “If,” says the writer of the article in the Hospital, each bakehouse is to be judged, not according to the strict letter of a strict law, but according to its individual merits, in eyes of a District Council, there may be less improvement than one could desire. The merits of a workshop are likely to be effected, in local eyes, by the merits and influence of its owner, and if reform is to be achieved, it will be well to allow but little scope for the action of local opinion.” Meanwhile, Dr. Newman, the Medical Officer of Health for the Borough of Finsbury, has been making some enquiries as to the state of underground bakehouses in his district, and as to the health or otherwise of the bacteria and of the workmen, who share these cave-dwellings. The bacteria he describes as “flourishing”; the workmen seem (with their high death average of rheumatic fever, diabetes, and urinary diseases) to be less so. Dr. Newman also states that 54 per cent. of the deaths of persons working in bakehouses, recorded during the last five years, were due to diseases of the lungs. To test for the presence of bacteria, the doctor exposed in the various bakehouses he examined, three agar plates for thirty minutes, and then incubated these at blood heat for twenty-two hours. The result showed that whereas on the nine 6-inch plates exposed in underground bakehouses, the number of bacteria varied from 600 to 800; a plate exposed in a bake-house above ground showed only 200. These figures and tests, if carefully studied by the wise housewife, will lead her undoubtedly in the future to find out by personal inspection the conditions under which her household bread is baked, and to choose her baker accordingly. The Socialists in Belgium have established in all the large towns quite ideal bakehouses, where millions of wholesomely made loaves are turned out every year. The dough is scarcely touched by hands, the bakers work an eight hours day, and the whole process of baking is open to inspection at any time by anyone who is interested in the working of a practical social experiment.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE