CHAPTER V ~ ARE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES LUXURIES?
In the house of diet fruits and vegetables may be likened to windows and doors, fire-places and chimneys; we could dispense with them, we could board up our windows and make a fire on a big stone in the middle of the room, letting the smoke escape through a hole in the roof, but such a course would not mean comfort year in and year out. So we may exist without fruits and vegetables, but it is worth while to stop and consider what we gain by their use.
We shall have to admit at the outset that if we have to spend money or labor for them, fruits and vegetables are not the cheapest source of fuel for the human machine. Some of them are cheaper fuel than butter, eggs, or meat, but not as cheap as cereals, sugar, molasses, syrups, and some of our cheapest fats. This is true of potatoes, parsnips, carrots, dried peas and beans, and such fruits as bananas, prunes, raisins, dates, figs, and possibly a few other dried fruits, but we cannot justify our investment in most fruits and vegetables solely on the plea that they are “filling” in the sense of being of high fuel value; on this ground lettuce, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, lemons, rhubarb, cranberries, and many others would find no place in our domestic economy.
Remembering that man does not live by fuel alone, we may find ample reasons for spending some of our food money upon things which at first thought seem to give an inadequate return. There is an old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” which if true means that the apple is a real economy, a kind of health insurance, for an apple costs seldom over five cents—often only one—and a doctor’s visit may easily cost a hundred times as much. There is a certain amount of truth in the saying, though the apple does not have a monopoly of the supposed virtue. It is more accurate, if less poetic, to say that an assortment of fruits and vegetables helps to keep us in good health. Before the days of modern “cold pack” canning, mothers used to assemble their little home groups in the spring and, in spite of sundry hidings under tables on the part of reluctant Johnnies and Susies, dutifully portion out herb tea or sulphur in molasses. Spring cleaning could never stop short of “cleansing the blood!” And after a monotonous winter of salt pork and fried potatoes no doubt heroic measures were necessary to make up for an ill-chosen diet. Nowadays we recognize no such seasonal need. We carry our surplus of fruits and vegetables over from summer to winter and profit not only in the greater daily pleasure of our tables but in clearer skins, brighter eyes, and less “spring fever.”
How do fruits and vegetables help to keep us well? In the first place, by their wholesome effect upon the bowels. As a rule we associate regular daily movements with health, but do not always recognize the part which diet plays in securing them. If we eat little besides meat and potatoes, bread, butter, and cake or pie, we are very likely to have constipation. This is particularly true for those who work indoors or sit much of the time. Now, fruits and vegetables have several properties which help to make them laxative. Many have considerable woody fiber. In celery and asparagus we find it in actual “strings”; in cabbage, spinach, lettuce, and other stem or leaf vegetables it may not be so noticeable, but it is certainly present and we should realize that it is useful. The skins of fruit are of this nature and may often be eaten, as in case of prunes, figs, apples, dried peaches and apricots. The outer coats of grains, which serve the same purpose, are frequently removed by milling, but similar coats of peas and beans are not so removed except in the case of dried split peas. In the juices of fruits and vegetables we find a variety of laxative substances. This explains why apple juice (sweet cider), orange juice or diluted lemon juice may be a very desirable morning drink. The effect is partly due to the acid but not wholly. Juices which are not acid to the taste, as those of prunes, figs, onions, have laxative properties. So from a great variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those which are fibrous or acid or both, we may obtain the substitute for “pills” in wholesome foods which are generally cheaper than drugs.
No diet can be properly built without a suitable supply of mineral salts. The free use of milk is our greatest safeguard against lack of any save iron, but when milk is scarce and has to be saved as now for the babies of the world, it is fortunate that we can make fruits and vegetables take its place in part. Some of our very common vegetables are good sources of the calcium (lime) and phosphorus so freely supplied in milk. Among these may be taken as an example the carrot, which has not had due recognition in many quarters and in some is even spoken of contemptuously as “cattle food.” Its cheapness comes from the fact that it is easy to grow and easy to keep through the winter and should not blind us to its merits. A good-sized carrot (weight one-fourth pound) will have only about half the fuel value of a medium-sized potato, but nearly ten times as much calcium as the potato and about one-third more phosphorus. While actual figures show that other vegetables, especially parsnips, turnips, celery, cauliflower, and lettuce, are richer in calcium than the carrot, its cheapness and fuel value make it worthy of emphasis. Everyone who has a garden should devote some space to this pretty and palatable vegetable. It is perhaps at its best when steamed till soft without salting and then cut up into a nicely seasoned white sauce; its sweetness will not then be destroyed nor its salts lost in the cooking water. It is not only useful as a hot vegetable, but in salads, in the form of a toothsome marmalade, and as the foundation of a steamed pudding. For little children it is most wholesome and they should make its acquaintance by the time they are a year and a half old, in the form of a cream soup. A dish of carrots and peas (one-half cup peas, one-fourth cup carrot cubes, one-half cup white sauce) will have almost the same food values (for fuel, calcium, phosphorus, and iron) as an equivalent serving of oatmeal, milk, and sugar (three-fourths cup cooked oatmeal, one-half cup milk, one rounding teaspoon sugar) and will add variety to the diet without costing a great deal more unless one pays a fancy price for peas.
Even when meat and eggs are not prohibitive in price, fruit and green vegetables are an important source of iron in the diet. And when war conditions make the free consumption of meat unpatriotic, it is reassuring to think that we really can get along without meat very well if we know how. Two ounces of lean beef will furnish no more iron than a quarter of a cup of cooked spinach or half a cup of cooked string beans or dried beans, or one-sixth of a cup of raisins, or half a dozen good-sized prunes. Cabbage, peas, lettuce, dandelion greens, beet tops, turnip tops and other “greens” are well worth including in our bill of fare for their iron alone. By the time children are a year old we begin to introduce special iron-bearing foods into their diet to supplement milk. Aside from egg yolk, we give preference for this purpose to green vegetable juice or pulp, especially from peas and spinach or a mixture of both. The substantial character of dry beans is too well known to require comment, but how many realize that they are a most valuable source of iron and other mineral salts? The fact that they are not a “complete diet” in themselves should not disturb anyone who realizes that all diets are built from a variety of foods. We are hardly likely to use beans to the exclusion of everything else except in dire necessity, and then what better could we do than use freely a food which will go so far toward sustaining life at so small a cost?
There is a further significance for fruits and vegetables in their contribution to the diet of the growth-promoting, health-protecting vitamines. That the presence of fruits and vegetables in the diet is a safeguard against scurvy is well known, though the full scientific explanation is not yet ours. That the leaf vegetables (spinach, lettuce, cabbage, and the like) contain both the vitamines which are essential to growth in the young and to the maintenance of health in the adult seems assured, and gives us further justification for emphasis on green vegetables in the diet of little children, when properly administered—i.e., always cooked, put through a fine sieve, and fed in small quantities.
Aside from being valuable for regulation of the bowels, for mineral salts, and vitamines, to say nothing of more or less fuel value, fruits and vegetables give zest to the diet. The pleasant acidity of many fruits, their delicate aroma, their beautiful form and coloring, the ease of preparing them for the table, are qualities for which we may legitimately prize them, though we may not spend money for them until actual nutritive requirements are met. Dr. Simon Patten, in his New Basis for Civilisation, ably expresses the value of appetizers: “Tomatoes, the hothouse delicacy of the Civil War time, are doing now what many a bloody revolution failed to accomplish; they have relieved the monotony of the salt pork and boiled potatoes upon the poor man’s table. The clear acid flavor of the canned vegetable lightens ugly heaviness and adds tonic gratifications for the lack of which men have let each other’s blood.”
As already remarked, those who have plenty of highly flavored meat are apt to be satisfied by it or to demand stronger flavors (coffee, catsup, pickles, and tobacco) than those found in fruits and vegetables. They are also apt to spend so much money on meat that they have none left to buy what seem to them unimportant items in the diet, and to have a much less wholesome diet than they might have for the same money. Studies of expenditures in many families show that a good rule to insure a well balanced diet is to spend no more money for meat than one does for fruit and vegetables. Also, it is well to remember that vegetables are usually cheaper than fruits and that dried ones may largely take the place of canned or fresh ones. For wholesome and economical living, have fruit of some kind at least once a day and make the main dish of one meal a vegetable dish whenever possible. Thick cream soups, souffles, creamed or scalloped vegetables, are all substantial and appetizing. The way to learn to like such foods is to keep trying. One may learn contentment with the proverbial dinner of herbs more easily by realizing that one is building valuable bricks into the house of diet; and in the present emergency one may, by selection of fruits and vegetables of high energy value, save less perishable foods for our soldiers and allies. The knowledge that a banana is equivalent in calories to a large slice of bread or a small pat of butter becomes tremendously significant; that an apple, an orange, four prunes, four dates, or a cup of peas, may not only take the place of bread but actually add something which the bread does not contain, means that we may be the gainers from our own sacrifices, without embarrassment thereat. We shall have reaped a speedy reward for doing our duty.