On Chewing One’s Food

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Dec 20, 1947

On Chewing One’s Food

I wonder how many people in these days of food shortages remember that in the past a shortage of food has been regarded as an aid to good health and long life.

Overeating, not undereating, is what we are chiefly warned against in times of plenty; and people with good appetites have been warned for centuries against eating a satisfying meal. It was in luxurious 16th century Venice that Cornaro wrote his treatise “The Sure and Certain Method of Attaining a Long and Healthful Life,” based on the principles—I quote from the translation of A. L. Vischer’s “Old Age: Its Compensations and Rewards”—“Who wishes to eat well, eats little” and “Food that a man leaves does him more good than what he has eaten.”

If Cornaro was speaking the truth why is it that he is not being held up to us as an example today when most of us start the day with an eggless, baconless breakfast and when a full-sized Sunday joint in the home has become a thing of the past like Dundreary whiskers?

After all Cornaro, who was a physical wreck at the age of 40, did not bother about how many calories were needed to keep him alive. He simply decided to eat less and less. “For some time,” says the encyclopedia, “he restricted himself to a daily allowance of 12 ounces of solid food and 14 ounces of wine; but in later life he reduced still further his bill of fare, and found he could support his life and strength with no more solid meat that an egg a day.”

As a result he was able to write at the age of 83; “I am always in good health and am so nimble that without help I can leap lightly upon a horse and can without effort climb not only a flight of stairs but a steep acclivity.”

There were a number of people who gave themselves colds lately in order to prove something or other in the interests of medical science. Would not this be a good time for the medical profession to call for a group of volunteers, to put the Cornaro theory to the test so that , if it were discovered to be a sound one, we should cheer up at the reduction of our potato ration and look forward eagerly to a time when we should be allowed only a single sausage at a meal?

As it is, sceptics dismiss Cornaro’s theory with the suggestion that he owed his long life not to what most of us would regard as semi-starvation, but to an originally strong constitution.

The medical profession might also arrange a series of tests of the theory of the American Horace Flecther who believed that if we chewed all our food, not merely 32 times to each bite like Mr. Gladstone, but till it became liquid in the mouth, we should need to eat fair less and be all the healthier for it. He himself, who was an old decrepit man at 40, gradually chewed his way into health till he was able to turn somersaults at the age of 60.

I have not great wish to be able to turn somersaults, but I should like to know whether it is true that by chewing doggedly I can get as much good from one slice of toast as at present I get from two slices. “Why not put the matter to the test yourself?” you may ask. The truth is I have not the strength of will to go on chewing all day long unless I am ordered to do so by a doctor.

Most people, I fancy, are like that; and what a good turn the food ministry, backed by the doctors, would do us were they to assure us on good evidence that, if only we chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed, we should find out present rations not only sufficient but excessive! I will, myself, become an ardent believer in the Flechter theory when I read that a cabinet minister has demonstrated the truth of it by turning a back somersault on the floor of the House of Commons.


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