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Some of Graham's more moderate contemporary critics said that he "wrote sensibly on the Science of Life, and laid down rules very well adapted to some constitutions. His error consisted in making a one standard of diet for the whole human race, when nature was perpetually telling him that every man varied in organization, and, of a consequence, to keep up that organization, various kinds of foods must be used."
It was (and still is) argued that no two men have the same constitutions; hence, each requires something different in his way of diet. Even the farm journals took up this cry against Grahamism, although they never applied the same argument to the feeding of horses, cows, sheep, hogs, etc.
This doctrine of physiological (or shall we call it constitutional?) chaos was popularly expressed in the old adage: "What is one man's meat is another man's poison." Because of the existence of this notion, there was much objection to the attempt "to lay down arbitrary rules regarding what foods are wholesome and what are unwholesome;" for, it was objected, "there is nothing truer than that 'what is food for one man is poison for another.'" The contention was made, and rightly, that the "only infallible guide is the unperverted palate;" but the mistake was made of regarding the conventionally conditioned palate as unperverted.
The foregoing contention was made in defense of the conventional eating practices. Hygienists admitted the validity of the unperverted palate, but objected to the application given. As no one, they replied, can present an unperverted palate as "that guide," they were delighted to consult reason and science. Denying that what is meat for one man is poison for another, they said that "every fact in anatomy and physiology proves that every living organism, man's not excepted, has a determinate relation to the food which furnishes the best materials for his nutrition." They contended that the human species is subject to the same laws of uniformity as other species with regard to food.
The very man who argues that "one man's meat is another man's poison" will, on occasion, argue most unreasonably that certain articles of food must be good because he has known people to eat them apparently without harm and further still, "because all the animals eat them." Commonly, such an individual has been very indifferent in his study of the eating habits of animals and knows very little about the general laws of nutrition.
What is he saying when he declares that "one man's meat is another man's poison?" It may be well for some folks to keep clean, but it is ridiculous to insist that all do so. It may be serviceable for some to get to bed early, but we are not all constituted alike. It may be helpful to many to live regularly and prudently, but some of us require irregular living and imprudencies. Frugal eating may be all right for many, but gluttony is best for many of us. It may be wholesome for many of us to drink nothing but water and not to smoke, but many of us require alcohol, coffee and tobacco. It may be good that some of us are honest and that we deal fairly with our fellow men, but some of us must be liars and cheats. Honesty is not for everybody, as we are not all constituted alike. This is the only legitimate interpretation of this oft-repeated assertion. If we thus view it in detail, we realize how devoid of reason it is.
As commonly employed, this old saw means that: while fruits and vegetables may be excellent foods for some constitutions, some of us are constitutionally carnivorous and could never thrive without liberal quantities of flesh foods. Indeed, we more urgently require flesh than do the carnivores. It is possible for cats and dogs to thrive and thrive well on a fleshless diet, but we cannot do so.
The constitutional differences between the sexes are far greater than any that exist between two individuals of the same sex. If the principle contended for in the common notion that one man's meat is another man's poison, because they differ in constitutions, were true, men and women would have to eat different foods.
The differentiation between man and woman is not as great as is generally imagined. They are both made of blood, bones, muscles and nerves; the same elements are necessary to sustain them both and the same causes operate to destroy them both. Foods that are good for one sex are good for the other; poisons that are injurious to one sex are injurious to the other. Does man need food, drink, warmth and sleep? Woman can no more live without these than can man. Does arsenic poison man? It is equally poisonous to woman. It produces in her the same and exact symptoms that it produces in him. Cold and heat affect the two sexes alike. Both have their powers and capacities--both mental and physical--drawn out or developed by use. The constitutions of the two sexes are radically alike and are governed by the same laws and subject to the same conditions.
Man's body is constituted upon a certain pattern, which pattern is precise, and its general principles apply to all men and individuals. The great principles upon which the body of man is constituted, by which it grows and develops, by which it expresses power, by which it maintains its functions and actions, by which it maintains the integrity of its structures and its life, are principles that are applicable to every human being. One man, within the organic principles of his constitution and within the range of the leading functional laws by which life is regulated, is the type of the whole race. Special differences, which are really insignificant and largely pathological, are subservient to great uniformity. Diversities do not in any way affect the great constituents which belong to all. Essentially, in all of the elements of physical excellence and mental and moral character, all men are alike.
In relating his life to the sources of life that abound in nature, so that through them he can gain additional strength, man behaves, not in the light of differences, but in the light of the similarities and likenesses between individuals. Life is sustained in the body with respect to those points wherein the individual man agrees with every other. The laws of nature, so far as they relate to life, are the same in all human beings, and this becomes a not merely general fact upon which, under general circumstances, one may rely--but a uniform, yes, a universal fact, so that what will keep one man alive will keep another man alive and what kills or tends to kill one man will kill or tend to kill another.
If it were true that one man's food were another man's poison, what would become of our social eating? We would continually be looking for poison. It would not help us to know that others had eaten a certain food with impunity or with benefit, for what is food for them might be poison to us. Again, how would we judge for others? In preparing a menu for others, whose needs are not known to us, how would we avoid poisoning them? Would we require of each invited guest that, in accepting our invitation, he (or she) supply us with the list of foods that he cannot eat and another list of foods that he can eat?
How could dietaries be constructed for schools, hospitals, prisons, asylums, etc., if the old adage is true? How would restaurants and hotels prepare their menus? But, as a matter of fact, do we not more or less observe a uniform mode of eating by the general public?
If the old adage were true, how would farmers know what foods to raise; how would market men know what to purchase for public use? Is it not obvious that if the adage expressed a real truth, commerce and industry would be in a state of confusion? Even mothers would not know until after the baby had been nursed at the breast whether their milk would be food or poison for their baby.
Are we giving too much strength to the old saw? If so, where does its force end, if it has any? If we understand it as an expression of a confused state into which mankind has brought itself by its habits, there would be some bitter sarcasm in it; but the fact is that it is never consistently nor intelligently used in this way. It is merely employed as a weapon for the caviler who has no other answer to give when he is urged to consider the importance of wholesome dietary habits.