Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/42

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32
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

sian tonic. Chica, a whitish liquid which in Peru is handed around like coffee after meals, is prepared from maize or Indian corn, moistened and fermented by mastication.

How a fondness for such abominations is propagated can be explained by any boy who had to drink beer or eat strong cheese against his will, and by and by "rather liked it," but a question less easily answered is how such tastes ever could originate. To the first man who tasted hasheesh, alcohol, or pulque, these substances could hardly be more tempting, we should think, than coal-tar or caustic sublimate. But most articles of food and drink are older than history. All we can do is to trace their progress from nation to nation and from century to century, but their origin loses itself in the cloud-land of tradition. The exegesis of diet is as problematic as that of religious dogmas.

Natural characteristics can frequently be traced to an hereditary foible for a special diet. French wits unhesitatingly attribute the têstes carés of their eastern neighbors to the heavy black bread of the land of Thor, and hint strongly that the reticence and stubbornness of John Bull have more to do with his beefsteaks than with mental profundity.

"Alas, how helpless is theology against the diet of bull-beef!" writes Father De Smet in his yearly report from the Sioux missions. It certainly is a suggestive fact that agriculture had to precede Christianity in its conquests over the aboriginal North Americans. Not one of our Indian tribes would renounce the devil and all his works unless we could get them to renounce the buffalo first. I heard a vegetarian lecturer in New Orleans last year, who gave a résumé of the peculiar views of his people, and certainly made out a very strong case in their favor. "The aggressive, the belligerent, and bloodthirsty instincts of all nations," he said, "are exactly equal to the proportion of animal food in their diet. The Hindoos, who like pigeons seem to be 'born without gall,' are vegetarians from birth; so were the Lotophagi of antiquity, who compromised all differences by arbitration. The Malays, who, in the same climate and with the same advantages, make use of animal food, are notoriously cruel and quarrelsome. But in the Indians of North America, who are wholly carnivorous, human nature and native pity seem to have become extinct, and superseded by an artificial instinct of bloodshed which equals that of the most ferocious animals."

The Mexicans distinguish between Indios mansos and Indios bravos — tame and fierce Indians — between whom there seems to be no generic difference; but the eastern tribes are frugivorous, cowardly, and harmless as Hindoos, though in stature and facial characteristics exact copies of their western kinsmen, the flesh-eating Comanches, who in cruelty emulate the pirates of Malacca.

Erasmus complains of the porcine paunches and materialistic tendencies of his countrymen, and warns them that, when eating and drinking have become the objects of life, animalization will speedily follow.