CHAPTER III ~ THE MEAT WE OUGHT TO SAVE
“Do not buy a pound of meat until you have bought three quarts of milk” is a “war sign” pointing two ways. On the one hand it tells us that we need to save meat; on the other, that we should encourage the production of that most indispensable food—milk.
But what a revolution in some households if this advice is heeded! Statisticians tell us that Americans have been consuming meat at the rate of 171 pounds per capita per year, which means nearly half a pound apiece every day for each man, woman, child, and infant in arms. Now, as mere infants and some older folk have not had any, it follows that many of us have had a great deal more. Did we need it? Shall we be worse off without it? Meat is undeniably popular. In spite of the rising price and the patriotic spirit of conservation, meat consumption goes on in many quarters at much the usual rate. There is probably no other one food so generally liked. It has a decided and agreeable flavor, a satisfactory “chew,” and leaves an after-sense of being well fed that many take as the sign of whether they are well nourished or not. It digests well, even when eaten rapidly, and perhaps partly for this reason is favored by the hurried man of affairs. It is easy to prepare and hence is appreciated by the cook, who knows that even with unskillful treatment it will be acceptable and require few accessories to make an agreeable meal. Its rich flavor helps to relieve the flatness of foods like rice, hominy, beans, or bread. From this point of view there is no such thing as a “meat substitute.”
But, nutritionally speaking, meat is only one of many; undeniably a good source of protein, but no better than milk or eggs. A lamb chop is a very nice item on a bill of fare, but the protein it contains can be secured just as well from one large egg, or two level tablespoonfuls of peanut butter, or one and one-fourth ounces of cheese; or a part of the time from a quarter of a cup of dried navy beans or a little less of dried split peas.
Meat is highly regarded as a source of iron; but, again, it has no monopoly of this important building-stone in the house of diet. The eggs, or peas, or half the beans mentioned above would any one of them furnish more iron than the lamb chop, while a quarter of a cup of cooked spinach or a small dish of string beans would furnish quite as much. Besides green vegetables, fruit, and the yolk of egg, cereals are a not inconsiderable source of iron. A man would have adequate nourishment for a day, including a sufficient supply of iron, if he were doing only moderate physical labor, from one pint of milk, one and one-half pounds of whole wheat bread, and three medium-sized apples. Beef juice is often used as a source of iron for children and undoubtedly it is one which is palatable and digestible, but it takes a quarter of a pound of beef to get a few tablespoonfuls of juice, and a tablespoonful of juice would hardly contain as much iron as one egg yolk; and it seems probable that the iron of the egg yolk would be better utilized for the making of good red blood.
Meat is good fuel for the human machine if used in moderate amounts along with other food. But meat is no better fuel than other food. An ordinary lamb chop will furnish no more calories than a dish of oatmeal, a piece of bread an inch thick and three inches square, a large apple or banana, an egg, five ounces (five-eighths of a cup) of milk, or a tablespoonful of peanut butter. The fatter meat is the higher its fuel value (providing the fat is used for food). A tablespoonful of bacon fat or beef drippings has the same fuel value as a tablespoonful of butter or lard, or as the lamb chop mentioned above. The man who insists that he has to have meat for working strength judges by how he feels after a meal and not by the scientific facts. While in the long run appetite serves as a measure of food requirement, we can find plenty of instances where it does not make a perfect measure. Some people have too large appetites for their body needs and get too fat from sheer surplus of fuel stored in the body for future needs as fat. If such people have three good meals a day all the time, there never is any future need and the fat stays. Other people have too small appetites for their needs and they never seem to get a surplus of fuel on hand. They live, as it were, from hand to mouth. Anyone accustomed to eating meat will have an unsatisfied feeling at first after a meal without meat. The same is true of other highly flavored foods. It is well for the cook to bear this in mind and serve a few rather highly seasoned dishes when there is no meat on the bill of fare. A very sweet dessert will often satisfy this peculiar sensation, and it can be allayed, at least in part, by the drinking of water some little time after the meal. Such a sensation will pass away when one becomes accustomed to the change in diet. It is probably due to certain highly flavored substances dissolved in the meat juices which are known to be excellent stimulants to the flow of gastric juice and which are stimulating in other ways. These have no food value in themselves, but, nevertheless, we prize meat for them, as is shown by the distaste we have for meat which has its juices removed. “Soup meat” has always been a problem for the housewife—hard to make palatable—and yet the greater part of the nourishment of meat is left in the meat itself after soup is made from it.
Let us frankly recognize then that we eat meat because we like it—for its flavor and texture rather than any peculiar nourishing properties—and that it is only our patriotic self-denial or force of economic circumstances that induces us to forgo our accustomed amounts of a food which is pleasant and (in moderation) wholesome. We must save meat that the babies of the world may have milk to drink. Nowhere in Europe is there enough milk for babies today. A conservative request for one European city alone was a shipment of one million pounds of condensed milk per month! If cattle are killed for food there will be little milk to send and the babies will perish. We must save meat for our soldiers and sailors, because they need it more than we do. It is not only easily transported, but one of the few things to give zest to their necessarily limited fare. Fresh fruits and green vegetables, which may serve us as appetizers, are not to be found on the war fields. Dainty concoctions from cheese and nuts may provide for us flavor as well as nutriment, but meat is the alternative to the dull monotony of bread and beans for the soldier—the tonic of appetite, the stimulant to good digestion. We can scarcely send him anything to take its place.
We must save meat, too, as a general food economy. Meat is produced at the expense of grain, which we might eat ourselves. And the production of meat is a very wasteful process. Grains have a fuel value for man approximating 1,600 calories per pound. A pound of meat in the form of beef will require the consumption by the animal of some fourteen pounds of grain. The pound of beef will furnish perhaps 1,200 calories, while the grain consumed will represent over 20,000 calories. The production of milk from grain is only about one-third as expensive, so the purchase of three quarts of milk to one pound of meat is an economy in more ways than one.
Saving for the rest of the world will not be without some physical advantage to ourselves, if we have been accustomed to indulge in meat freely. Among the well-to-do meat eating is apt to be overdone to the extent of affecting the kidneys and the arteries, and some enforced restriction would be a real advantage to health, as has been demonstrated in other than war times. Because a food is good is no reason for unlimited quantities; an ounce of sugar a day is wholesome—a pound is likely to result in both indigestion and a badly balanced diet. A quarter of a pound of meat a day is not undesirable for an adult, but a pound a day may result in general overeating or in the special ills which are related directly to a large quantity of meat. One of these is an upsetting of a proper balance of food elements in the diet. Diets high in meat are apt to be low in milk and consequently low in calcium. If the income is limited this is almost sure to be the case, since there will not be enough money to provide meat freely and at the same time satisfy other nutritive requirements. Such diets are also likely to be low in fuel value and not provide enough working force even while men are declaring that they must have meat to give them strength. They would have more strength and a better diet from every point of view if part of the meat money were spent for milk. So the injunction to buy three quarts of milk to one pound of meat is a good rule for securing a well balanced and ample diet at the lowest cost.
Another good rule is to spend no more for meat, fish, and eggs than for milk, and as much for fruits and vegetables as for meat, fish, and eggs. Families very commonly spend as much as one-third of the food money for meat; and, while they may secure a full third of their protein, iron, and phosphorus in this way, they may not get more than a sixth of their fuel and almost no calcium. Three quarts of milk at fourteen cents a quart will yield about 2,000 calories. For an expenditure of forty-two cents for beef as free from waste as milk, we would pay perhaps thirty-two cents per pound. A pound and a quarter of lean beef would yield about 1,000 calories. So as fuel alone the milk would be twice as cheap as the meat. Three quarts of milk would yield almost if not quite as much protein as the meat and a liberal supply of calcium to offset the iron furnished by the meat. Everything considered, then, milk is a better investment than meat. The same is true of some of the other foods which supply protein in the diet such as dry peas and beans; cheese and peanut butter are at least twice as valuable nutritionally as beef. The domestic problem is to make palatable dishes from these foods. This requires time and patience. The cook must not get discouraged if the first trial does not bring marked success. The rest of the family should count it their “bit” to eat valiantly until they can eat joyfully.