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    12. Food and Feeding

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    Chapter 13
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    When a man and a bear meet together casually in an American forest, it
    makes a great deal of difference, to the two parties concerned at least,
    whether the bear eats the man or the man eats the bear. We haven't the
    slightest difficulty in deciding afterwards which of the two, in each
    particular case, has been the eater, and which the eaten. Here, we say,
    is the grizzly that eat the man; or, here is the man that smoked and
    dined off the hams of the grizzly. Basing our opinion upon such familiar
    and well-known instances, we are apt to take it for granted far too
    readily that between eating and being eaten, between the active and the
    passive voice of the verb _edo_, there exists necessarily a profound and
    impassable native antithesis. To swallow an oyster is, in our own
    personal histories, so very different a thing from being swallowed by a
    shark that we can hardly realise at first the underlying fundamental
    identity of eating with mere coalescence. And yet, at the very outset of
    the art of feeding, when the nascent animal first began to indulge in
    this very essential animal practice, one may fairly say that no
    practical difference as yet existed between the creature that ate and
    the creature that was eaten. After the man and the bear had finished
    their little meal, if one may be frankly metaphorical, it was impossible
    to decide whether the remaining being was the man or the bear, or which
    of the two had swallowed the other. The dinner having been purely
    mutual, the resulting animal represented both the litigants equally;
    just as, in cannibal New Zealand, the chief who ate up his brother chief
    was held naturally to inherit the goods and chattels of the vanquished
    and absorbed rival, whom he had thus literally and physically
    incorporated.

    A jelly-speck, floating about at his ease in a drop of stagnant water
    under the field of a microscope, collides accidentally with another
    jelly-speck who happens to be travelling in the opposite direction
    across the same miniature ocean. What thereupon occurs? One jelly-speck
    rolls itself gradually into the other, so that, instead of two, there is
    now one; and the united body proceeds to float away quite unconcernedly,
    without waiting to trouble itself for a second with the profound
    metaphysical question, which half of it is the original personality, and
    which half the devoured and digested. In these minute and very simple
    animals there is absolutely no division of labour between part and part;
    every bit of the jelly-like mass is alike head and foot and mouth and
    stomach. The jelly-speck has no permanent limbs, but it keeps putting
    forth vague arms and legs every now and then from one side or the other;
    and with these temporary and ever-dissolving members it crawls along
    merrily through its tiny drop of stagnant water. If two of the legs or
    arms happen to knock up casually against one another, they coalesce at
    once, just like two drops of water on a window-pane, or two strings of
    treacle slowly spreading along the surface of a plate. When the
    jelly-speck meets any edible thing--a bit of dead plant, a wee creature
    like itself, a microscopic egg--it proceeds to fold its own substance
    slimily around it, making, as it were, a temporary mouth for the purpose
    of swallowing it, and a temporary stomach for the purpose of quietly
    digesting and assimilating it afterwards. Thus what at one moment is a
    foot may at the next moment become a mouth, and at the moment after that
    again a rudimentary stomach. The animal has no skin and no body, no
    outside and no inside, no distinction of parts or members, no
    individuality, no identity. Roll it up into one with another of its
    kind, and it couldn't tell you itself a minute afterwards which of the
    two it had really been a minute before. The question of personal
    identity is here considerably mixed.

    But as soon as we get to rather larger creatures of the same type, the
    antithesis between the eater and the eaten begins to assume a more
    definite character. The big jelly-bag approaches a good many smaller
    jelly-bags, microscopic plants, and other appropriate food-stuffs, and,
    surrounding them rapidly with its crawling arms, envelopes them in its
    own substance, which closes behind them and gradually digests them.
    Everybody knows, by name at least, that revolutionary and evolutionary
    hero, the amoeba--the terror of theologians, the pet of professors,
    and the insufferable bore of the general reader. Well, this parlous and
    subversive little animal consists of a comparatively large mass of soft
    jelly, pushing forth slender lobes, like threads or fingers, from its
    own substance, and gliding about, by means of these tiny legs, over
    water-plants and other submerged surfaces. But though it can literally
    turn itself inside out, like a glove, it still has some faint beginnings
    of a mouth and stomach, for it generally takes in food and absorbs water
    through a particular part of its surface, where the slimy mass of its
    body is thinnest. Thus the amoeba may be said really to eat and
    drink, though quite devoid of any special organs for eating or drinking.

    The particular point to which I wish to draw attention here, however, is
    this: that even the very simplest and most primitive animals do
    discriminate somehow between what is eatable and what isn't. The
    amoeba has no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no tongue, no nerves of taste,
    no special means of discrimination of any kind; and yet, so long as it
    meets only grains of sand or bits of shell, it makes no effort in any
    way to swallow them; but, the moment it comes across a bit of material
    fit for its food, it begins at once to spread its clammy fingers around
    the nutritious morsel. The fact is, every part of the amoeba's body
    apparently possesses, in a very vague form, the first beginnings of
    those senses which in us are specialised and confined to a single spot.
    And it is because of the light which the amoeba thus incidentally
    casts upon the nature of the specialised senses in higher animals that I
    have ventured once more to drag out of the private life of his native
    pond that already too notorious and obtrusive rhizopod.

    With us lordly human beings, at the extreme opposite end in the scale of
    being from the microscopic jelly-specks, the art of feeding and the
    mechanism which provides for it have both reached a very high state of
    advanced perfection. We have slowly evolved a tongue and palate on the
    one hand, and French cooks and _pâté de foie gras_ on the other. But
    while everybody knows practically how things taste to us, and which
    things respectively we like and dislike, comparatively few people ever
    recognise that the sense of taste is not merely intended as a source of
    gratification, but serves a useful purpose in our bodily economy, in
    informing us what we ought to eat and what to refuse. Paradoxical as it
    may sound at first to most people, nice things are, in the main, things
    that are good for us, and nasty things are poisonous or otherwise
    injurious. That we often practically find the exact contrary the case
    (alas!) is due, not to the provisions of nature, but to the artificial
    surroundings in which we live, and to the cunning way in which we
    flavour up unwholesome food, so as to deceive and cajole the natural
    palate. Yet, after all, it is a pleasant gospel that what we like is
    really good for us, and, when we have made some small allowances for
    artificial conditions, it is in the main a true one also.

    The sense of taste, which in the lowest animals is diffused equally over
    the whole frame, is in ourselves and other higher creatures concentrated
    in a special part of the body, namely the mouth, where the food about to
    be swallowed is chewed and otherwise prepared beforehand for the work of
    digestion. Now it is, of course, quite clear that some sort of
    supervision must be exercised by the body over the kind of food that is
    going to be put into it. Common experience teaches us that prussic acid
    and pure opium are undesirable food-stuffs in large quantities; that raw
    spirits, petroleum, and red lead should be sparingly partaken of by the
    judicious feeder; and that even green fruit, the bitter end of cucumber,
    and the berries of deadly nightshade are unsatisfactory articles of diet
    when continuously persisted in. If, at the very outset of our digestive
    apparatus, we hadn't a sort of automatic premonitory adviser upon the
    kinds of food we ought or ought not to indulge in, we should naturally
    commit considerable imprudences in the way of eating and drinking--even
    more than we do at present. Natural selection has therefore provided us
    with a fairly efficient guide in this respect in the sense of taste,
    which is placed at the very threshold, as it were, of our digestive
    mechanism. It is the duty of taste to warn us against uneatable things,
    and to recommend to our favourable attention eatable and wholesome ones;
    and, on the whole, in spite of small occasional remissness, it performs
    this duty with creditable success.

    Taste, however, is not equally distributed over the whole surface of the
    tongue alike. There are three distinct regions or tracts, each of which
    has to perform its own special office and function. The tip of the
    tongue is concerned mainly with pungent and acrid tastes; the middle
    portion is sensitive chiefly to sweets and bitters; while the back or
    lower portion confines itself almost entirely to the flavours of roast
    meats, butter, oils, and other rich or fatty substances. There are very
    good reasons for this subdivision of faculties in the tongue, the object
    being, as it were, to make each piece of food undergo three separate
    examinations (like 'smalls,' 'mods,' and 'greats' at Oxford), which must
    be successively passed before it is admitted into full participation in
    the human economy. The first examination, as we shall shortly see, gets
    rid at once of substances which would be actively and immediately
    destructive to the very tissues of the mouth and body; the second
    discriminates between poisonous and chemically harmless food-stuffs; and
    the third merely decides the minor question whether the particular food
    is likely to prove then and there wholesome or indigestible to the
    particular person. The sense of taste proceeds, in fact, upon the
    principle of gradual selection and elimination; it refuses first what is
    positively destructive, next what is more remotely deleterious, and
    finally what is only undesirable or over-luscious.

    When we want to assure ourselves, by means of taste, about any unknown
    object--say a lump of some white stuff, which may be crystal, or glass,
    or alum, or borax, or quartz, or rock-salt--we put the tip of the tongue
    against it gingerly. If it begins to burn us, we draw it away more or
    less rapidly with an accompaniment in language strictly dependent upon
    our personal habits and manners. The test we thus occasionally apply,
    even in the civilised adult state, to unknown bodies is one that is
    being applied every day and all day long by children and savages.
    Unsophisticated humanity is constantly putting everything it sees up to
    its mouth in a frank spirit of experimental inquiry as to its gustatory
    properties. In civilised life we find everything ready labelled and
    assorted for us; we comparatively seldom require to roll the contents of
    a suspicious bottle (in very small quantities) doubtfully upon the
    tongue in order to discover whether it is pale sherry or Chili vinegar,
    Dublin stout or mushroom ketchup. But in the savage state, from which,
    geologically and biologically speaking, we have only just emerged,
    bottles and labels do not exist. Primitive man, therefore, in his sweet
    simplicity, has only two modes open before him for deciding whether the
    things he finds are or are not strictly edible. The first thing he does
    is to sniff at them; and smell, being, as Mr. Herbert Spencer has well
    put it, an anticipatory taste, generally gives him some idea of what the
    thing is likely to prove. The second thing he does is to pop it into his
    mouth, and proceed practically to examine its further characteristics.

    Strictly speaking, with the tip of the tongue one can't really taste at
    all. If you put a small drop of honey or of oil of bitter almonds on
    that part of the mouth, you will find (no doubt to your great surprise)
    that it produces no effect of any sort; you only taste it when it begins
    slowly to diffuse itself, and reaches the true tasting region in the
    middle distance. But if you put a little cayenne or mustard on the same
    part, you will find that it bites you immediately--the experiment should
    be tried sparingly--while if you put it lower down in the mouth you will
    swallow it almost without noticing the pungency of the stimulant. The
    reason is, that the tip of the tongue is supplied only with nerves which
    are really nerves of touch, not nerves of taste proper; they belong to a
    totally different main branch, and they go to a different centre in the
    brain, together with the very similar threads which supply the nerves
    of smell for mustard and pepper. That is why the smell and taste of
    these pungent substances are so much alike, as everybody must have
    noticed, a good sniff at a mustard-pot producing almost the same
    irritating effects as an incautious mouthful. As a rule we don't
    accurately distinguish, it is true, between these different regions of
    taste in the mouth in ordinary life; but that is because we usually roll
    our food about instinctively, without paying much attention to the
    particular part affected by it. Indeed, when one is trying deliberate
    experiments in the subject, in order to test the varying sensitiveness
    of the different parts to different substances, it is necessary to keep
    the tongue quite dry, in order to isolate the thing you are
    experimenting with, and prevent its spreading to all parts of the mouth
    together. In actual practice this result is obtained in a rather
    ludicrous manner--by blowing upon the tongue, between each experiment,
    with a pair of bellows. To such undignified expedients does the pursuit
    of science lead the ardent modern psychologist. Those domestic rivals of
    Dr. Forbes Winslow, the servants, who behold the enthusiastic
    investigator alternately drying his tongue in this ridiculous fashion,
    as if he were a blacksmith's fire, and then squeezing out a single drop
    of essence of pepper, vinegar, or beef-tea from a glass syringe upon the
    dry surface, not unnaturally arrive at the conclusion that master has
    gone stark mad, and that, in their private opinion, it's the microscope
    and the skeleton as has done it.

    Above all things, we don't want to be flayed alive. So the kinds of
    tastes discriminated by the tip of the tongue are the pungent, like
    pepper, cayenne and mustard; the astringent, like borax and alum; the
    alkaline, like soda and potash; the acid, like vinegar and green fruit;
    and the saline, like salt and ammonia. Almost all the bodies likely to
    give rise to such tastes (or, more correctly, sensations of touch in
    the tongue) are obviously unwholesome and destructive in their
    character, at least when taken in large quantities. Nobody wishes to
    drink nitric acid by the quart. The first business of this part of the
    tongue is, therefore, to warn us emphatically against caustic substances
    and corrosive acids, against vitriol and kerosene, spirits of wine and
    ether, capsicums and burning leaves or roots, such as those of the
    common English lords-and-ladies. Things of this sort are immediately
    destructive to the very tissues of the tongue and palate; if taken
    incautiously in too large doses, they burn the skin off the roof of the
    mouth; and when swallowed they play havoc, of course, with our internal
    arrangements. It is highly advisable, therefore, to have an immediate
    warning of these extremely dangerous substances, at the very outset of
    our feeding apparatus.

    This kind of taste hardly differs from touch or burning. The sensibility
    of the tip of the tongue is only a very slight modification of the
    sensibility possessed by the skin generally, and especially by the inner
    folds over all delicate parts of the body. We all know that common
    caustic burns us wherever it touches; and it burns the tongue only in a
    somewhat more marked manner. Nitric or sulphuric acid attacks the
    fingers each after its own kind. A mustard plaster makes us tingle
    almost immediately; and the action of mustard on the tongue hardly
    differs, except in being more instantaneous and more discriminative.
    Cantharides work in just the same way. If you cut a red pepper in two
    and rub it on your neck, it will sting just as it does when put into
    soup (this experiment, however, is best tried upon one's younger
    brother; if made personally, it hardly repays the trouble and
    annoyance). Even vinegar and other acids, rubbed into the skin, are
    followed by a slight tingling; while the effect of brandy, applied,
    say, to the arms, is gently stimulating and pleasurable, somewhat in the
    same way as when normally swallowed in conjunction with the habitual
    seltzer. In short, most things which give rise to distinct tastes when
    applied to the tip of the tongue give rise to fainter sensations when
    applied to the skin generally. And one hardly needs to be reminded that
    pepper or vinegar placed (accidentally as a rule) on the inner surface
    of the eyelids produces a very distinct and unpleasant smart.

    The fact is, the liability to be chemically affected by pungent or acid
    bodies is common to every part of the skin; but it is least felt where
    the tough outer skin is thickest, and most felt where that skin is
    thinnest, and the nerves are most plentifully distributed near the
    surface. A mustard plaster would probably fail to draw at all on one's
    heel or the palm of one's hand; while it is decidedly painful on one's
    neck or chest; and a mere speck of mustard inside the eyelid gives one
    positive torture for hours together. Now, the tip of the tongue is just
    a part of one's body specially set aside for this very object, provided
    with an extremely thin skin, and supplied with an immense number of
    nerves, on purpose so as to be easily affected by all such pungent,
    alkaline, or spirituous substances. Sir Wilfrid Lawson would probably
    conclude that it was deliberately designed by Providence to warn us
    against a wicked indulgence in the brandy and seltzer aforesaid.

    At first sight it might seem as though there were hardly enough of such
    pungent and fiery things in existence to make it worth while for us to
    be provided with a special mechanism for guarding against them. That is
    true enough, no doubt, as regards our modern civilised life; though,
    even now, it is perhaps just as well that our children should have an
    internal monitor (other than conscience) to dissuade them immediately
    from indiscriminate indulgence in photographic chemicals, the contents
    of stray medicine bottles, and the best dried West India chilies. But in
    an earlier period of progress, and especially in tropical countries
    (where the Darwinians have now decided the human race made its first
    _début_ upon this or any other stage), things were very different
    indeed. Pungent and poisonous plants and fruits abounded on every side.
    We have all of us in our youth been taken in by some too cruelly waggish
    companion, who insisted upon making us eat the bright, glossy leaves of
    the common English arum, which without look pretty and juicy enough, but
    within are full of the concentrated essence of pungency and profanity.
    Well, there are hundreds of such plants, even in cold climates, to tempt
    the eyes and poison the veins of unsuspecting cattle or childish
    humanity. There is buttercup, so horribly acrid that cows carefully
    avoid it in their closest cropped pastures; and yet your cow is not
    usually a too dainty animal. There is aconite, the deadly poison with
    which Dr. Lamson removed his troublesome relatives. There is baneberry,
    whose very name sufficiently describes its dangerous nature. There are
    horse-radish, and stinging rocket, and biting wall-pepper, and still
    smarter water-pepper, and worm-wood, and nightshade, and spurge, and
    hemlock, and half a dozen other equally unpleasant weeds. All of these
    have acquired their pungent and poisonous properties, just as nettles
    have acquired their sting, and thistles their thorns, in order to
    prevent animals from browsing upon them and destroying them. And the
    animals in turn have acquired a very delicate sense of pungency on
    purpose to warn them beforehand of the existence of such dangerous and
    undesirable qualities in the plants which they might otherwise be
    tempted incautiously to swallow.

    In tropical woods, where our 'hairy quadrumanous ancestor' (Darwinian
    for the primæval monkey, from whom we are presumably descended) used
    playfully to disport himself, as yet unconscious of his glorious destiny
    as the remote progenitor of Shakespeare, Milton, and the late Mr.
    Peace--in tropical woods, such acrid or pungent fruits and plants are
    particularly common, and correspondingly annoying. The fact is, our
    primitive forefather and all the other monkeys are, or were, confirmed
    fruit-eaters. But to guard against their depredations a vast number of
    tropical fruits and nuts have acquired disagreeable or fiery rinds and
    shells, which suffice to deter the bold aggressor. It may not be nice to
    get your tongue burnt with a root or fruit, but it is at least a great
    deal better than getting poisoned; and, roughly speaking, pungency in
    external nature exactly answers to the rough gaudy labels which some
    chemists paste on bottles containing poisons. It means to say, 'This
    fruit or leaf, if you eat it in any quantities, will kill you.' That is
    the true explanation of capsicums, pimento, colocynth, croton oil, the
    upas tree, and the vast majority of bitter, acrid, or fiery fruits and
    leaves. If we had to pick up our own livelihood, as our naked ancestors
    had to do, from roots, seeds, and berries, we should far more readily
    appreciate this simple truth. We should know that a great many more
    plants than we now suspect are bitter or pungent, and therefore
    poisonous. Even in England we are familiar enough with such defences as
    those possessed by the outer rind of the walnut; but the tropical
    cashew-nut has a rind so intensely acrid that it blisters the lips and
    fingers instantaneously, in the same way as cantharides would do. I
    believe that on the whole, taking nature throughout, more fruits and
    nuts are poisonous, or intensely bitter, or very fiery, than are sweet,
    luscious, and edible.

    'But,' says that fidgety person, the hypothetical objector (whom one
    always sets up for the express purpose of promptly knocking him down
    again), 'if it be the business of the fore part of the tongue to warn us
    against pungent and acrid substances, how comes it that we purposely use
    such things as mustard, pepper, curry-powder, and vinegar?' Well, in
    themselves all these things are, strictly speaking, bad for us; but in
    small quantities they act as agreeable stimulants; and we take care in
    preparing most of them to get rid of the most objectionable properties.
    Moreover, we use them, not as foods, but merely as condiments. One drop
    of oil of capsicums is enough to kill a man, if taken undiluted; but in
    actual practice we buy it in such a very diluted form that comparatively
    little harm arises from using it. Still, very young children dislike all
    these violent stimulants, even in small quantities; they won't touch
    mustard, pepper, or vinegar, and they recoil at once from wine or
    spirits. It is only by slow degrees that we learn these unnatural
    tastes, as our nerves get blunted and our palates jaded; and we all know
    that the old Indian who can eat nothing but dry curries, devilled
    biscuits, anchovy paste, pepper-pot, mulligatawny soup, Worcestershire
    sauce, preserved ginger, hot pickles, fiery sherry, and neat cognac, is
    also a person with no digestion, a fragmentary liver, and very little
    chance of getting himself accepted by any safe and solvent insurance
    office. Throughout, the warning in itself is a useful one; it is we who
    foolishly and persistently disregard it. Alcohol, for example, tells us
    at once that it is bad for us; yet we manage so to dress it up with
    flavouring matters and dilute it with water that we overlook the fiery
    character of the spirit itself. But that alcohol is in itself a bad
    thing (when freely indulged in) has been so abundantly demonstrated in
    the history of mankind that it hardly needs any further proof.

    The middle region of the tongue is the part with which we experience
    sensations of taste proper--that is to say, of sweetness and bitterness.
    In a healthy, natural state all sweet things are pleasant to us, and all
    bitters (even if combined with sherry) unpleasant. The reason for this
    is easy enough to understand. It carries us back at once into those
    primæval tropical forests, where our 'hairy ancestor' used to diet
    himself upon the fruits of the earth in due season. Now, almost all
    edible fruits, roots, and tubers contain sugar; and therefore the
    presence of sugar is, in the wild condition, as good a rough test of
    whether anything is good to eat as one could easily find. In fact, the
    argument cuts both ways: edible fruits are sweet because they are
    intended for man and other animals to eat; and man and other animals
    have a tongue pleasurably affected by sugar because sugary things in
    nature are for them in the highest degree edible. Our early progenitors
    formed their taste upon oranges, mangoes, bananas, and grapes; upon
    sweet potatoes, sugar-cane, dates, and wild honey. There is scarcely
    anything fitted for human food in the vegetable world (and our earliest
    ancestors were most undoubted vegetarians) which does not contain sugar
    in considerable quantities. In temperate climates (where man is but a
    recent intruder), we have taken, it is true, to regarding wheaten bread
    as the staff of life; but in our native tropics enormous populations
    still live almost exclusively upon plantains, bananas, bread-fruit,
    yams, sweet potatoes, dates, cocoanuts, melons, cassava, pine-apples,
    and figs. Our nerves have been adapted to the circumstances of our early
    life as a race in tropical forests; and we still retain a marked liking
    for sweets of every sort. Not content with our strawberries,
    raspberries, gooseberries, currants, apples, pears, cherries, plums and
    other northern fruits, we ransack the world for dates, figs, raisins,
    and oranges. Indeed, in spite of our acquired meat-eating propensities,
    it may be fairly said that fruits and seeds (including wheat, rice,
    peas, beans, and other grains and pulse) still form by far the most
    important element in the food-stuffs of human populations generally.

    But besides the natural sweets, we have also taken to producing
    artificial ones. Has any housewife ever realised the alarming condition
    of cookery in the benighted generations before the invention of sugar?
    It is really almost too appalling to think about. So many things that we
    now look upon as all but necessaries--cakes, puddings, made dishes,
    confectionery, preserves, sweet biscuits, jellies, cooked fruits, tarts,
    and so forth--were then practically quite impossible. Fancy attempting
    nowadays to live a single day without sugar; no tea, no coffee, no jam,
    no pudding, no cake, no sweets, no hot toddy before one goes to bed; the
    bare idea of it is too terrible. And yet that was really the abject
    condition of all the civilised world up to the middle of the middle
    ages. Horace's punch was sugarless and lemonless; the gentle Virgil
    never tasted the congenial cup of afternoon tea; and Socrates went from
    his cradle to his grave without ever knowing the flavour of peppermint
    bull's eyes. How the children managed to spend their Saturday _as_, or
    their weekly _obolus_, is a profound mystery. To be sure, people had
    honey; but honey is rare, dear, and scanty; it can never have filled one
    quarter the place that sugar fills in our modern affections. Try for a
    moment to realise drinking honey with one's whisky-and-water, or doing
    the year's preserving with a pot of best Narbonne, and you get at once a
    common measure of the difference between the two as practical
    sweeteners. Nowadays, we get sugar from cane and beet-root in abundance,
    while sugar-maples and palm-trees of various sorts afford a considerable
    supply to remoter countries. But the childhood of the little Greeks and
    Romans must have been absolutely unlighted by a single ray of joy from
    chocolate creams or Everton toffee.

    The consequence of this excessive production of sweets in modern times
    is, of course, that we have begun to distrust the indications afforded
    us by the sense of taste in this particular as to the wholesomeness of
    various objects. We can mix sugar with anything we like, whether it had
    sugar in it to begin with or otherwise; and by sweetening and flavouring
    we can give a false palatableness to even the worst and most
    indigestible rubbish, such as plaster-of-Paris, largely sold under the
    name of sugared almonds to the ingenuous youth of two hemispheres. But
    in untouched nature the test rarely or never fails. As long as fruits
    are unripe and unfit for human food, they are green and sour; as soon as
    they ripen they become soft and sweet, and usually acquire some bright
    colour as a sort of advertisement of their edibility. In the main, bar
    the accidents of civilisation, whatever is sweet is good to eat--nay
    more, is meant to be eaten; it is only our own perverse folly that makes
    us sometimes think all nice things bad for us, and all wholesome things
    nasty. In a state of nature, the exact opposite is really the case. One
    may observe, too, that children, who are literally young savages in more
    senses than one, stand nearer to the primitive feeling in this respect
    than grown-up people. They unaffectedly like sweets; adults, who have
    grown more accustomed to the artificial meat diet, don't, as a rule,
    care much for puddings, cakes, and made dishes. (May I venture
    parenthetically to add, any appearance to the contrary notwithstanding,
    that I am not a vegetarian, and that I am far from desiring to bring
    down upon my devoted head the imprecation pronounced against the rash
    person who would rob a poor man of his beer. It is quite possible to
    believe that vegetarianism was the starting point of the race, without
    wishing to consider it also as the goal; just as it is quite possible to
    regard clothes as purely artificial products of civilisation, without
    desiring personally to return to the charming simplicity of the Garden
    of Eden.)

    Bitter things in nature at large, on the contrary, are almost invariably
    poisonous. Strychnia, for example, is intensely bitter, and it is well
    known that life cannot be supported on strychnia alone for more than a
    few hours. Again, colocynth and aloes are far from being wholesome food
    stuffs, for a continuance; and the bitter end of cucumber does not
    conduce to the highest standard of good living. The bitter matter in
    decaying apples is highly injurious when swallowed, which it isn't
    likely to be by anybody who ever tastes it. Wormwood and walnut-shells
    contain other bitter and poisonous principles; absinthe, which is made
    from one of them, is a favourite slow poison with the fashionable young
    men of Paris, who wish to escape prematurely from 'Le monde où l'on
    s'ennuie.' But prussic acid is the commonest component in all natural
    bitters, being found in bitter almonds, apple pips, the kernels of
    mangosteens, and many other seeds and fruits. Indeed, one may say
    roughly that the object of nature generally is to prevent the actual
    seeds of edible fruits from being eaten and digested; and for this
    purpose, while she stores the pulp with sweet juices, she encloses the
    seed itself in hard stony coverings, and makes it nasty with bitter
    essences. Eat an orange-pip, and you will promptly observe how effectual
    is this arrangement. As a rule, the outer rind of nuts is bitter, and
    the inner kernel of edible fruits. The tongue thus warns us immediately
    against bitter things, as being poisonous, and prevents us automatically
    from swallowing them.

    'But how is it,' asks our objector again, 'that so many poisons are
    tasteless, or even, like sugar of lead, pleasant to the palate?' The
    answer is (you see, we knock him down again, as usual) because these
    poisons are themselves for the most part artificial products; they do
    not occur in a state of nature, at least in man's ordinary surroundings.
    Almost every poisonous thing that we are really liable to meet with in
    the wild state we are warned against at once by the sense of taste; but
    of course it would be absurd to suppose that natural selection could
    have produced a mode of warning us against poisons which have never
    before occurred in human experience. One might just as well expect that
    it should have rendered us dynamite-proof, or have given us a skin like
    the hide of a rhinoceros to protect us against the future contingency of
    the invention of rifles.

    Sweets and bitters are really almost the only tastes proper, almost the
    only ones discriminated by this central and truly gustatory region of
    the tongue and palate. Most so-called flavourings will be found on
    strict examination to be nothing more than mixtures with these of
    certain smells, or else of pungent, salty, or alkaline matters,
    distinguished as such by the tip of the tongue. For instance,
    paradoxical as it sounds to say so, cinnamon has really no taste at all,
    but only a smell. Nobody will ever believe this on first hearing, but
    nothing on earth is easier than to put it to the test. Take a small
    piece of cinnamon, hold your nose tightly, rather high up, between the
    thumb and finger, and begin chewing it. You will find that it is
    absolutely tasteless; you are merely chewing a perfectly insipid bit of
    bark. Then let go your nose, and you will find immediately that it
    'tastes' strongly, though in reality it is only the perfume from it that
    you now permit to rise into the smelling-chamber in the nose. So, again,
    cloves have only a pungent taste and a peculiar smell, and the same is
    the case more or less with almost all distinctive flavourings. When you
    come to find of what they are made up, they consist generally of sweets
    or bitters, intermixed with certain ethereal perfumes, or with pungent
    or acid tastes, or with both or several such together. In this way, a
    comparatively small number of original elements, variously combined,
    suffice to make up the whole enormous mass of recognisably different
    tastes and flavours.

    The third and lowest part of the tongue and throat is the seat of those
    peculiar tastes to which Professor Bain, the great authority upon this
    important philosophical subject, has given the names of relishes and
    disgusts. It is here, chiefly, that we taste animal food, fats, butters,
    oils, and the richer class of vegetables and made dishes. If we like
    them, we experience a sensation which may be called a relish, and which
    induces one to keep rolling the morsel farther down the throat, till it
    passes at last beyond the region of our voluntary control. If we don't
    like them, we get the sensation which may be called a disgust, and which
    is very different from the mere unpleasantness of excessively pungent or
    bitter things. It is far less of an intellectual and far more of a
    physical and emotional feeling. We say, and say rightly, of such things
    that we find it hard to swallow them; a something within us (of a very
    tangible nature) seems to rise up bodily and protest against them. As a
    very good example of this experience, take one's first attempt to
    swallow cod-liver oil. Other things may be unpleasant or unpalatable,
    but things of this class are in the strictest sense nasty and
    disgusting.

    The fact is, the lower part of the tongue is supplied with nerves in
    close sympathy with the digestion. If the food which has been passed by
    the two previous examiners is found here to be simple and digestible, it
    is permitted to go on unchallenged; if it is found to be too rich, too
    bilious, or too indigestible, a protest is promptly entered against it,
    and if we are wise we will immediately desist from eating any more of
    it. It is here that the impartial tribunal of nature pronounces
    definitely against roast goose, mince pies, _pâté de foie gras_, sally
    lunn, muffins and crumpets, and creamy puddings. It is here, too, that
    the slightest taint in meat, milk, or butter is immediately detected;
    that rancid pastry from the pastrycook's is ruthlessly exposed; and that
    the wiles of the fishmonger are set at naught by the judicious palate.
    It is the special duty, in fact, of this last examiner to discover, not
    whether food is positively destructive, not whether it is poisonous or
    deleterious in nature, but merely whether it is then and there
    digestible or undesirable.

    As our state of health varies greatly from time to time, however, so do
    the warnings of this last sympathetic adviser change and flicker. Sweet
    things are always sweet, and bitter things always bitter; vinegar is
    always sour, and ginger always hot in the mouth, too, whatever our state
    of health or feeling. But our taste for roast loin of mutton, high game,
    salmon cutlets, and Gorgonzola cheese varies immensely from time to
    time, with the passing condition of our health and digestion. In
    illness, and especially in sea-sickness, one gets the distaste carried
    to the extreme: you may eat grapes or suck an orange in the chops of the
    Channel, but you do not feel warmly attached to the steward who offers
    you a basin of greasy ox-tail, or consoles you with promises of ham
    sandwiches in half a minute. Under those two painful conditions it is
    the very light, fresh, and stimulating things that one can most easily
    swallow--champagne, soda-water, strawberries, peaches; not lobster
    salad, sardines on toast, green Chartreuse, or hot brandy-and-water. On
    the other hand, in robust health, and when hungry with exercise, you can
    eat fat pork with relish on a Scotch hillside, or dine off fresh salmon
    three days running without inconvenience. Even a Spanish stew, with
    plenty of garlic in it, and floating in olive oil, tastes positively
    delicious after a day's mountaineering in the Pyrenees.

    The healthy popular belief, still surviving in spite of cookery, that
    our likes and dislikes are the best guide to what is good for us, finds
    its justification in this fact, that whatever is relished will prove on
    the average wholesome, and whatever rouses disgust will prove on the
    whole indigestible. Nothing can be more wrong, for example, than to make
    children eat fat when they don't want it. A healthy child likes fat, and
    eats as much of it as he can get. If a child shows signs of disgust at
    fat, that proves that it is of a bilious temperament, and it ought never
    to be forced into eating it against its will. Most of us are bilious in
    after-life just because we were compelled to eat rich food in childhood,
    which we felt instinctively was unsuitable for us. We might still be
    indulging with impunity in thick turtle, canvas-back ducks, devilled
    whitebait, meringues, and Nesselrode puddings, if we hadn't been so
    persistently overdosed in our earlier years with things that we didn't
    want and knew were indigestible.

    Of course, in our existing modern cookery, very few simple and
    uncompounded tastes are still left to us; everything is so mixed up
    together that only by an effort of deliberate experiment can one
    discover what are the special effects of special tastes upon the tongue
    and palate. Salt is mixed with almost everything we eat--_sal sapit
    omnia_--and pepper or cayenne is nearly equally common. Butter is put
    into the peas, which have been previously adulterated by being boiled
    with mint; and cucumber is unknown except in conjunction with oil and
    vinegar. This makes it comparatively difficult for us to realise the
    distinctness of the elements which go to make up most tastes as we
    actually experience them. Moreover, a great many eatable objects have
    hardly any taste of their own, properly speaking, but only a feeling of
    softness, or hardness, or glutinousness in the mouth, mainly observed in
    the act of chewing them. For example, plain boiled rice is almost wholly
    insipid; but even in its plainest form salt has usually been boiled with
    it, and in practice we generally eat it with sugar, preserves, curry, or
    some other strongly flavoured condiment. Again, plain boiled tapioca and
    sago (in water) are as nearly tasteless as anything can be; they merely
    yield a feeling of gumminess; but milk, in which they are oftenest
    cooked, gives them a relish (in the sense here restricted), and sugar,
    eggs, cinnamon, or nutmeg are usually added by way of flavouring. Even
    turbot has hardly any taste proper, except in the glutinous skin, which
    has a faint relish; the epicure values it rather because of its
    softness, its delicacy, and its light flesh. Gelatine by itself is
    merely very swallowable; we must mix sugar, wine, lemon-juice, and other
    flavourings in order to make it into good jelly. Salt, spices, essences,
    vanilla, vinegar, pickles, capers, ketchups, sauces, chutneys,
    lime-juice, curry, and all the rest, are just our civilised expedients
    for adding the pleasure of pungency and acidity to naturally insipid
    foods, by stimulating the nerves of touch in the tongue, just as sugar
    is our tribute to the pure gustatory sense, and oil, butter, bacon,
    lard, and the various fats used in frying to the sense of relish which
    forms the last element in our compound taste. A boiled sole is all very
    well when one is just convalescent, but in robust health we demand the
    delights of egg and bread-crumb, which are after all only the vehicle
    for the appetising grease. Plain boiled macaroni may pass muster in the
    unsophisticated nursery, but in the pampered dining-room it requires the
    aid of toasted parmesan. Good modern cookery is the practical result of
    centuries of experience in this direction; the final flower of ages of
    evolution, devoted to the equalisation of flavours in all human food.
    Think of the generations of fruitless experiment that must have passed
    before mankind discovered that mint sauce (itself a cunning compound of
    vinegar and sugar) ought to be eaten with leg of lamb, that roast goose
    required a corrective in the shape of apple, and that while a
    pre-established harmony existed between salmon and lobster, oysters were
    ordained beforehand by nature as the proper accompaniment of boiled cod.
    Whenever I reflect upon such things, I become at once a good Positivist,
    and offer up praise in my own private chapel to the Spirit of Humanity
    which has slowly perfected these profound rules of good living.
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