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THE COAL FOODS

Kinds of Coal Foods. There are many different kinds of Coal foods, such as pork, mutton, beef, bread, corn-cakes, bacon, potatoes, rice, sugar, cheese, butter, and so on. But when you come to look at them more closely, and to take them to pieces, or, as we say, analyze them, you will see that they all fall into three different kinds or classes: (1) Proteins, such as meat, milk, fish, eggs, cheese, etc. (2) Starch-sugars (carbohydrates), found pure as laundry starch and as white sugar; also found, as starch, making up the bulk of wheat and other grains, and of potatoes, rice, peas; also found, as sugar, in honey, beet-roots, sugar cane, and the sap of maple trees. (3) Fats, found in fat meats, butter, oil, nuts, beeswax, etc.

This whole class of Coal foods can be recognized by the fact that usually some one of them will form the staple, or main dish, of almost any regular meal, which is generally a combination of all three classes-a protein in the shape of meat; a starch-sugar in the form of bread, potatoes, or rice; and a fat in the form of butter in northern climates, or of olive oil in the tropics.

PROTEINS, OR “MEATS”

Proteins, the “First Foods.” There are proteins, or “meats,” both animal and vegetable; and no one can support life without protein in some form. This is because proteins alone contain sufficient amounts of the great element called nitrogen, which forms a large part of every portion of our bodies. This is why they are called proteins, meaning “first foods,” or most necessary foods. Whatever we may live on in later life, we all began on a diet of liquid meat (milk), and could have survived and grown up on nothing else.

Composition of Proteins. Nearly all our meats are the muscle of different sorts of animals, made of a soft, reddish, animal pulp called myosin; the other principal proteins being white of egg, curd of milk, and a gummy, whitish-gray substance called gluten, found in wheat flour. This gluten is the stuff that makes the paste and dough of wheat flour sticky, so that you can paste things together with it; while that made from corn meal or oatmeal will fall to pieces when you take it up. The jelly-like or pulp-like myosin in meat is held together by strings or threads of tough, fibrous stuff; and the more there is of this fibrous material in a particular piece or “cut,” of meat, the tougher and less juicy it is. The thick, soft muscles, which lie close under the backbone in the small of the back, in all animals, have less of this tough and indigestible fibrous stuff in them, and cuts across them give us the well-known porter-house, sirloin, or tenderloin steaks, and the best and tenderest mutton and pork chops.

Fuel Value of Meats. Weight for weight, most of the butcher’s meats-beef, pork, mutton, and veal-have about the same food value, differing chiefly in the amount of fat that is mixed in with their fibres, and in certain flavoring substances, which give them, when roasted, or broiled, their special flavors. The different flavors are not of any practical importance, except in the case of mutton, which some people dislike and therefore can take only occasionally, and in small amounts.

The amount of fat in meats, however, is more important; and depends largely upon how well the animal has been fed. There is usually the least amount of fat in mutton, more in beef, and by far the greatest amount in pork. This fat adds to the fuel value of meat, but makes it a little slower of digestion; and its presence in large amounts in pork, together with the fact that it lies, not only in layers and streaks, but also mixed in between the fibres of the lean as well has caused this meat to be regarded as richer and more difficult of digestion than either beef or mutton. This, however is not quite fair to the pork, because smaller amounts of it will satisfy the appetite and furnish the body with sufficient fuel and nutrition. If it be eaten in moderate amounts and thoroughly chewed, it is a wholesome and valuable food.

Veal is slightly less digestible than beef or mutton, on account of the amount of slippery gelatin in and among its fibres; but if well cooked and well chewed, it is wholesome.

The other meats-chicken, duck, and other poultry, game, etc.-are of much less nutritive value than either beef, pork, or mutton, partly because of the large amount of waste in them, in the form of bones, skin, and tendons, and partly from the greater amount of water in them. But their flavors make them an agreeable change from the staple meats.

Fish belongs in the same class as poultry and consists of the same muscle substance, but, as you can readily see by the way that it shrinks when dried, contains far more water and has less fuel value. Some of the richer and more solid fishes, like salmon, halibut, and mackerel, contain, in addition to their protein, considerable amounts of fat and, when dried or cured, give a rather high fuel value at moderate cost. But the peculiar flavor of fish, its large percentage of water, and the special make-up of its protein, give it a very low food value, and render it, on the whole, undesirable as a permanent staple food. Races and classes who live on it as their chief meat-food are not so vigorous or so healthy as those who eat also the flesh of animals. As a rule, it is not best to use fish as the main dish of a meal oftener than two or three times a week.

Milk. Milk is an interesting food of great value because it combines in itself all three of the great classes of food-stuffs,-protein, starch-sugar, and fat. Its protein is a substance called casein, which forms the bulk of curds, and which, when dried and salted, is called cheese. The fat is present in little tiny globules which give milk its whitish or milky color. When milk is allowed to stand, these globules of fat, being lighter, float up to the top and form a layer which is called cream. When this cream is skimmed off and put into a churn, and shaken or beaten violently so as to break the little film with which each of these droplets is coated, they run together and form a yellow mass which we call butter. In addition to the curd and fat, milk contains also sugar, called milk-sugar (lactose), which gives it its sweetish taste. And as a considerable part of the casein, or curd, is composed of another starch-like body, or animal starch, this makes milk quite rich in the starch-sugar group of food-stuffs.

All these substances, of course, in milk are dissolved in a large amount of water, so that when milk is evaporated, or dried, it shrinks down to barely one-sixth of its former bulk. It is, in fact, a liquid meat, starch-sugar, and fat in one; and that is why babies are able to live and thrive on it alone for the first six months of their lives. It is also a very valuable food for older children, though, naturally, it is not “strong” enough and needs to be combined with bread, puddings, meat, and fat.

Soups and Broths. Soups, broths, and beef teas are water in which meats, bones, and other scraps have been boiled. They are about ninety-eight per cent water, and contain nothing of the meat or bones except some of their flavor, and a little gelatin. They have little or no nutritive or fuel value, and are really Paper foods, useful solely as stimulants to appetite and digestion, enabling us to swallow with relish large pieces of bread or crackers, or the potatoes, rice, pea-meal, cheese, or other real foods with which they are thickened. Their food value has been greatly exaggerated, and many an unfortunate invalid has literally starved on them. Ninety-five per cent of the food value of the meat and bones, out of which soups are made, remains at the bottom of the pot, after the soup has been poured off. The commercial extracts of meat are little better than frauds, for they contain practically nothing but flavoring matters.

Protein in Vegetables. Several vegetable substances contain considerable amounts of protein. One of these has already been mentioned,-the gluten or sticky part of bread,-and this is what has given wheat its well-deserved reputation as the best of all grains out of which to make flour for human food.

There is also another vegetable protein, called legumin, found in quite large amounts in dried beans and peas; but this is of limited food value, first because it is difficult of digestion, and secondly because with it, in dried peas and beans, are found a pungent oil and a bitter substance, which give them their peculiar strong flavor, both of which are quite irritating to the average person’s digestion. So distressing and disturbing are these flavoring substances to the civilized stomach, that, after thousands of attempts to use them more largely, it has been found that a full meal of beans once or twice a week is all that the comfort and health of the body will stand. This is really a great pity, for beans and peas are both nourishing and cheap. Nuts also contain much protein, but are both difficult of digestion and expensive.

Virtues and Drawbacks of Meats. Taken all together, the proteins, or meats, are the most nutritious and wholesome single class of foods. Their chief drawback is their expense, which, in proportion to their fuel value, is greater than that of the starches. Then, on account of their attractiveness, they may be eaten at times in too large amounts. They are also somewhat more difficult to keep and preserve than are either the starches or the fats. The old idea that, when burned up in the body, they give rise to waste products, which are either more poisonous or more difficult to get rid of than those of vegetable foods, is now regarded as having no sufficient foundation. Neither is the common belief that meats cause gout well founded.

The greatest danger connected with meats is that they may become tainted, or begin to spoil, or decay, before they are used. Unfortunately, the ingenious cook has invented a great many ways of smothering, or disguising, the well-marked bad taste of decayed, or spoiled, meat by spices, onions, and savory herbs. So, as a general thing, the safest plan, especially when traveling or living away from home, is to avoid as far as possible hashes, stews, and other “made” dishes containing meat. This is one of the ways in which spices and onions have got such a bad reputation for “heating the blood,” or upsetting the stomach, when it is really the decayed meat which they are used to disguise that causes the trouble. Highly spiced dishes rob you of the services of your best guide to the wholesomeness of food-your nose.

Risks of Dirty Milk. The risks from tainting or spoiling are particularly great in the case of milk, partly on account of the dusty and otherwise uncleanly barns and sheds in which it is often handled and kept, and from which it is loaded with a heavy crop of bacteria at the very start; and partly because the same delicateness which makes it so easily digestible for babies, makes it equally easy for germs and bacteria to grow in it and spoil, or sour, it. You all know how disagreeable the taste of spoiled milk is; and it is as dangerous as it is disagreeable. A very large share of the illnesses of babies and young children, particularly the diseases of stomach and bowels which are so common in hot weather, are due to the use of spoiled, dirty milk.

There is one sure preventive for all these dangers, and that is absolute cleanliness from cow to customer. All the changes that take place in milk are caused by germs of various sorts, usually floating in the air, that get into it. If the milk is so handled and protected, from cow to breakfast table, that these germs cannot get into it, it will remain sweet for several days.

Boards of Health all over the world now are insisting upon absolutely clean barns and cleanly methods of handling, shipping, and selling milk. In most of our large cities, milk-men are not allowed to sell milk without a license; and this license is granted only after a thorough examination of their cattle, barns, and milk-houses. These clean methods of handling milk cost very little; they take only time and pains.

Nowadays, in the best dairies, it is required that the barns or sheds in which cows are milked shall have tight walls and roofs and good flooring; that the walls and roofs shall be kept white-washed; and the floor be cleaned and washed before each milking, so that no germs from dust or manure can float into the milk. Then the cows are kept in a clean pasture, or dry, graveled yard, instead of a muddy barnyard; and are either brushed, or washed down with a hose before each milking, so that no dust or dirt will fall from them into the milk. The men who are to milk wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water, and put on clean white canvas or cotton overalls, jackets, and caps. As soon as the milk has been drawn into the pails, it is carried into the milk-room and cooled down to a temperature of about forty-two degrees-that is, about ten degrees above freezing point. This is to prevent the growth of such few germs as may have got into it, in spite of all the care that has been taken. Then the milk is drawn into bottles; and the bottles are tightly capped by a water-proof pasteboard disc, or cover, which is not removed until the milk is brought into the house and poured into the glass, or cup, for use.

Milk handled like this costs from two to four cents a quart more to produce than when drawn from a cow smeared with manure, in a dark, dirty, strong-smelling barn, by a milker with greasy clothing and dirty hands; and then ladled out into pitchers in the open street, giving all the dust and flies that happen to be in the neighborhood a chance to get into it! But it is doubly worth the extra price, because, besides escaping stomach and bowel troubles, you get more cream and higher food value. There is one-third more food value in clean milk than in dirty milk, because its casein and sugar have not been spoiled and eaten by swarms of bacteria. How great a difference careful cleanliness of this sort can make in milk is shown by the difference in the number of bacteria that the two kinds of milk contain. Ordinary milk bought from the wagons in the open street, or from the cans in the stores, will contain anywhere from a million to a million and a half bacteria to the cubic centimeter (about fifteen drops); and samples have actually been taken and counted, which showed five and six millions.

Such a splendid food for germs is milk, and so rapidly do they grow in it, that dirty milk will actually contain more of them to the cubic inch than sewage, as it flows in the sewers. Now see what a difference a little cleanliness will make! Good, clean, carefully handled milk, instead of having a million, or a million and a half, bacteria, will have less than ten thousand; and very clean milk may contain as low as three or four hundred, and these of harmless sorts. The whole gospel of the care of milk can be summed up in two sentences: (1) Keep dirt and germs out of the milk. (2) Keep the milk cool.

Besides the germs of the summer diseases of children, which kill more than fifty thousand babies every year in the United States, dirty milk may also contain typhoid germs and consumption germs. The typhoid germs do not come from the body of the cow, but get into the milk through its being handled by people who have, or have just recovered from, typhoid, or who are nursing patients sick with typhoid, and who have not properly washed their hands; or from washing the cans, or from watering the milk with water taken from a well or stream infected with typhoid. It is estimated that about one-eighth of all the half million cases of typhoid that occur in the United States every year are carried through dirty milk.

The germs of consumption, or tuberculosis, that are present in milk may come from a cow that has the disease; or from consumptive human beings who handle the milk; or from the dust of streets or houses-which often contains disease germs. The latter sources are far the more dangerous; for, as is now pretty generally agreed, although the tuberculosis of cattle can be given to human beings, it is not very actively dangerous to them; and probably not more than three or four per cent of all cases of tuberculosis come from this source. The idea, however, of allowing the milk of cows diseased from any cause to be used for human food, is not to be tolerated for a moment. All good dairymen and energetic Boards of Health now insist upon dairy herds being tested for tuberculosis, and the killing, or weeding out, of all cows that show they have the disease.

Cheese. Cheese is the curd of milk squeezed dry of its liquid (whey), salted, pressed into a mould, and allowed to ferment slowly, or “ripen,” in which process a considerable part of its casein is turned into fat. It is a cheap, concentrated, and very nutritious food, and in small amounts is quite appetizing. But unfortunately, the acids and extracts which have formed in the process of fermentation and ripening are so irritating to the stomach, that it can usually be eaten only in small amounts, without upsetting the digestion. Its chief value is as a relish with bread, crackers, potatoes, or macaroni. In moderate amounts, it is not only appetizing and digestible, but will assist in the digestion of other foods; hence the custom of eating a small piece of “ripe” cheese at the end of a heavy meal.