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The Economy of Food in War-Time

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ECONOMY does not mean sparing, but arrangement; and its value in the matter of food is beginning, though very slowly, to come home to everybody at the present moment. That it is contrary to the national habits cannot be denied. We are naturally a careless nation, troubling ourselves little about small things, and by no means inclined to look favourably on anything like order or system. Hence we are daily and hourly throwing away valuable foods, and nothing strikes French or Belgian refugees more forcibly than the queues ot children who are to be seen in the West End of London waiting outside fish- mongers’, pork-butchers’, and pastrycooks’ shops for the free distribution of so-called waste material for which our visitors’ housewives would expect to pay a remunerative price. This national characteristic has its good as well as its bad side; but it is now plain that it will have to go into the background until after the war. Although there is no scarcity of food among us, the purchasing power of the sovereign is decreasing, and money must therefore be made to go further. By doing so, we increase the store of those ” silver bullets ” which Mr. Lloyd George tells us are of nearly as much importance in this campaign as leaden ones; and there is no more universal or more obvious road to this increase than by economy in food. Now the uses to which the organism puts the food supplied to it are various. It employs it to build up the fabric of the body in childhood and youth, and to repair it in maturity and old age. It converts it into the form of energy known as heat, which is alone capable of pro- ducing work whether mental or physical, and it extracts from it salts and other minerals which are necessary for its own well-being. All, or very nearly all, foods used in England contain substances fit for all these three purposes, but in very different proportions. Thus, meat (including fish), cheese, beans and peas, oatmeal, eggs, and nuts are useful for building up and repairing the body ; fats, sugars, potatoes, rice, and cornflour give heat ; and vegetables other than beans and peas. as also fruits, provide the minerals necessary for the proper assimilation of the whole. But these are the things which, as it were, they do best, and if we use them for the purposes to which they are least adapted an enormous amount of waste products is the result. Beef, for instance, if stripped of its natural fat, furnishes nearly twenty per cent. of its weight in body- building material, or proteid. Some small amount of fat or other hydrocarbon is extracted in the process of diges- tion, and possibly an infinitesimal quantity of mineral salts. All the remainder is excreted as waste products, and the separation and disposal of these waste products by themselves make great demands on the energy of the organism. If economy is to be practised in matters of food, it is plain therefore that the supply of each of the three kinds of food mentioned should be proportioned to the demand likely to be made on it. To feed a soldier in the trenches on the same food as the student of mature age in his library, is like giving a five-pound note to a man on a desert island. Luckily for the nation, the food supply of the Army and Navy is in skilled and capable hands, and the great chemist, M. Armand Gautier, has put it on record that the daily ration of the French and English soldier is now perfectly correct from the scientific point of view. It is, therefore, only with the civilian that we are here con- cerned, and with him the true economy is probably to be found in the varying of his diet. According to a pamphlet issued by that excellently run institution, the National Food Fund, an adult man requires about 4 oz. of body- building material a day; I lb. of heat-giving stuff other than fats, and a quarter of a pound of fat. As for the salts and other minerals, less than – of an oz. are all that is necessary, although it is probable that this must be largely diluted to make them assimilable. For women, the amounts may be slightly lessened, since they do not require, for more than one reason, so large an amount of heat-giving food as men. For children, the amount must of perforce vary with the weight and age of the child; while in their diet, milk, which contains all the necessary elements perfectly combined, should play so large a part as to make their dietary a simple one. The real problem is. how a man of the classes removed above the necessity of manual labour is to content himself with the slender amount of meat which the figure just given allows. The answer is probably to be found in the larger use of foods which contain a greater proportion of proteid than does meat. Fish runs meat fairly hard in this respect, as does, according to some authorities, oatmeal; while eggs give 15 instead of 20 per cent. of proteid, and the best home-made bread about io per cent. But this is little compared to cheese, which yields a third of its own weight in proteid, or lentils, haricot beans, and dried peas, which give nearly a quarter. It follows, therefore, that these should all form a larger part of our diet in war-time than they have hitherto done, and to them should be added vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and ” greens.” Instead of boiling these in the wasteful English way, and throwing away the water containing the mineral salts extracted, they are best made into stews and soups. Even if the ” war-time ” price of eggs, cheese, and fish be considered, it will be found that for the amount of nourishment given, they will prove cheaper in the long run than thc meat which their cost would buy. It will, of course, be said that the preparation of such food demands greater skill on the part of the cook; but this is not so. On the contrary, soups and stews, parti- cularly since the introduction of Norwegian kitchens and other apparatus for slow cooking, want far less attention than the proper roasting of a joint and the boiling of a potato. As for dishes like macaroni cheese, vegetable curry, and kedgeree of fish and rice, the pains that they give in cooking is in inverse ratio to the pleasure from the eating of them. Experto ‘crede. F. L.

 


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