Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/40

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30
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

DIETETIC CURIOSITIES.
By FELIX L. OSWALD, Ph.D., M.D.

II.

WE know from the accounts of Sir John Ross, Captain Kane, and other Arctic explorers, how persistently the Esquimaux prefer walrus-blubber and whale-oil to the most seductive products of the vegetable kingdom, but the fervor of their devotion was only realized by the Rev. Mr. Hansen, the Moravian missionary, who prepared a dying Esquimau for the glories of the New Jerusalem. "I am sure you are right," said the departing brother, "but, tell me, are there many walruses in heaven?" "None at all, as far as I know," Mr. Hansen replied, not without astonishment at the question. The weary eyelids opened to emit a look of intense reproach. "And you couldn't tell me that before? No heaven that for me, then — an Esquimau can not subsist without walrus!"

The peptic stimulus of a high latitude, as recognized by Dr. Boerhaave, may justify such preferences; but Greenlanders, carried down to our temperate climate and even to the eternal summers of Cuba, still insisted on their daily blubber-ration with a firmness worthy of a better cause. Ferdinand Renz, the European Barnum, found it to his advantage to gratify the national taste of his Greenlanders. He had attempted to wean them from their traditional grease, and nearly succeeded, as he flattered himself, when his managers reported an enormous deficit of tallow-candles, which he found had been devoured by the boxful in the silence of night by the bereaved children of the North.

Nowhere is indifference to the quality of food carried further than in the rural districts of Russia. Black, sour bread, salt pork, cabbage, and quass, or fermented cabbage-water, are the nectar and ambrosia of the Slavonic boor, who in times of scarcity will content himself with a diet that would drive Munster and Connaught to desperation. Quass, their popular tipple, is described as resembling a mixture of stale fish and soap-suds in taste, yet has next to beer probably more votaries than any other fermented stimulant.

Assassin, assassinate, and their derivatives come from hasheesh, the Arabian word for hemp. A decoction of hemp-leaves, filtered and boiled down, yields a greenish-black residuum of intensely bitter and nauseous taste — a stuff not very likely, one should think, to tempt a normally constituted human being. Yet this same hasheesh, Dr. Nachtigal assures us, can marshal a larger army of victims than either gunpowder or alcohol; and only the originator of the opium-habit, he thinks, will have an uglier score against him on the day of judgment than the Sheik-al-Jebel, who, tradition says, first introduced the hasheesh-habit.