Cairns Post – 14 October 1939
OVEREATING IS TREASON
This is becoming a hard world for the man with a healthy appetite. In the old days most people used to like to see a man enjoying his food, and second helpings were pressed even on reluctant children at table. Victorian aunts would say to their nephews at tea, “You’re eating nothing,” unless the nephews set to and crammed themselves almost to bursting point.
Gluttony, it is true, was condemned by the church as a sin, but you had to eat a lot in order to be considered a glutton in those days. I remember being shown a man of stout build, who, I was told, could eat two whole ducks at a meal, but even he was regarded less as a glutton than as a man of unusual capacity.
I do not suggest that everybody gormandised in those days, but I am sure a great many members of the male sex ate considerably more than was good for them. Dieticians had not yet scared them into abstinence with talk about proteins, calories and carbo-hydrates. Men would still sit down at a banquet trembling at the approach of the sixth course.
To-day, however, what with the doctors and dieticians, this is all changed. In the chief restaurants lean men now sit in the chairs which were once occupied by fat men who read the menu with tender eyes as though it were a love-song.
Among all my friends at the present moment, I know only two or three who have the courage to eat too much, and even they do so, not unselfconsciously like their fathers, but in a spirit of derring-do, as though showing off and deliberately courting danger. I always suspect that when they arrive home after one of their orgies, they hurry to the medicine cupboard, quaking in every limb, and absorb large quantities of bicarbonate of soda.
There have, of course, always been authorities who condemned over-eating, but it was only in the present century, I think, that a Reign of Terror became firmly established at the dinner table, so that it was common to see a woman looking scared at sight of a dish of potatoes, or a man flinching from a savoury as from poison.
Banquets have become a mere matter of picking at tiny portions, of disguised food at which, instead of enjoying the pleasures of eating, men do little bat talk to each other.
And the latest news from abroad suggests that in Germany the Reign of Terror at the table is even worse than it is in England. Dr. Wirz, in Munich, a Nazi health expert, indeed, has just warned the Germans that “persistent eating to excess not only damages the constitution but is necessarily a kind of high treason.”
It is surely an alarming state of affairs when human beings have to think, not only of dietetics, but of politics, when they sit down to their meals. It would be a terrible thing if, just as one had been served, with a second helping of saddle of mutton, the restaurant began to ring with cries of “Traitor.”
Already the citizens of Vienna have been severely castigated because of their liking for cream, and in reply to their demand for it they have been told in an official leaflet: “There are people who think their stomach is a god, and that everybody who offends it is guilty almost of blasphemy.”
Even their innocent craving for bananas brought down the wrath of the authorities on their heads. “There are people,” they were told, “who seem to have been lured out of the jungle by bananas, and are happy only if they can eat them continuously.” I should have thought , that, if human beings can be lured out of the jungle by bananas, this would be a reason, for giving people plenty of bananas.
If the new European politics reach England, however, we shall no doubt see all those injunctions to eat more fruit torn down from the hoardings as traitorous, and fruiterers will be prosecuted by the Attorney-General as aiders and abettors of high treason.
All those advertisements, indeed, which tell us to eat more this and to drink more that will be amended to fit in with the new politics, the word “more” being altered to “less” in all cases.
This somehow does not seem to me to be an improvement on the world of Dickens, in which men were free to eat and drink what they pleased without the intervention of officials of the Tory, the Liberal or any other party.
It is surely a sign of the decivitisation of the world that, with our ability to produce more food than at any previous time in history, the freedom to eat should be more restricted than it has ever been during any period of so-called peace. It is all very well to go without butter and cream in a famine, but to idealise a butter-and-cream shortage as a good thing in itself when it would be perfectly simple to have a Europe in which there would be plenty of butter and cream for everybody, seems to be contrary to reason.
Hence, I hope that when mankind recovers its sanity one of the first things that it will do will be to reestablish the freedom of eating and to make every country a land where each man eats the thing he will, without fear of being prosecuted for high treason.
After all, John Bull was “never a traitor: yet, if we may judge by his portraits, he was an enormous eater—a man who loved quantity as well as quality in his food.
There are worse things than over-eating. Watching other people to see how much they eat, it seems to me, is one of them.