Tomorrow’s Food. By James Rorty and N. Philip Norman. Prentice-Hall, Inc. $3.50.
One of the most obvious facts about England during the war was that the people had more endurance and vitality than one would expect. Bombing, overwork, monotony, separation, and the added cold and darkness—all these depressing influences did not add up to either defeatism or loss of health. Only two compensating factors were visible: full employment and food rations. The mass of the people were better fed than in peacetime; and together with the spiritual effect of having a job, apparently this was enough to outweigh all the adverse conditions of wartime.
In the United States, on the other hand, health and vitality were not up to what one might expect of the richest country in the world. The final lesson of the draft rejections, as stated by General Hershey, is that “we are physically in a condition of which we nationally should be thoroughly ashamed.”
“Tomorrow’s Food” by James Rorty and N. Philip Norman is a crusading book, written in anger and disgust against the conditions that have undermined the health of most of the American people. Whatever may be the world situation, there is enough to eat in this country, if we would eat it instead of wasting it by wrongheaded food habits.
Apparently the nearest thing to a general prescription, good for whatever ails you, is quite simple: never eat white flour or refined sugar. After that, don’t eat white rice, over-processed foods or “refined” food in general. The nearer you come to gnawing it raw, the healthier you will be.
All this sounds much like just another food cult, and one can’t help thinking of the feeble souls who “eat fruit and nuts.” And so indeed it is, to the extent that whole grains and other natural foods can be packaged and sold for fancy prices to devotees who dare not trust any but the “genuine” brand. The authors of this book are not advertising any such weak return to nature.
The indignant part of the book is directed against the commercial bakers and the many processors of food who have found it profitable to take out the food values in order to get a product that would be easy to store and ship; and against government officials who have been pressured into consenting to “enrichment” of white bread when what the people clearly needed was a darker bread; and against scientists and medical authorities who have compromised at points where in the face of commercial advantage the scientific facts at least should have been kept clear.
Whole grain and unrefined sugars are most important because if they are handled in quantity they are cheap and can serve as a source of minerals and vitamins for poor people, here and abroad. Because we allow the bulk of the trade to be occupied by the refined staples, the whole products arc specialties and often out of the reach of those who need them most. All the pressures of advertising, social prestige, and apparent cheapness are lined up in favor of white bread, cake, doughnuts, cola drinks, and candy, which satisfy hunger for calories of energy, without supplying the elements of health. It takes a well-to-do family to have white bread on the table and enough salads, fresh vegetables, meats, and fruits to make up a proper diet. It also takes more good sense than many well-to-do families evidently can show.
White bread and white sugar are not, of course, actually poisons, as the reader would gather from a hasty reading of “Tomorrow’s Food.” It is literally true, as the bakers’ propaganda says, that white bread is wholesome—if combined with a carefully planned (and expensive) balancing diet. But the authors of this book are right in giving the impression that never, never should the accursed stuff pass the lips of the righteous. There is room for fanatics. In view of the harm that white bread does to the public, it is reasonable for the righteous to testify, by publicly choosing the dark or, if there is only white, not caring for bread, thank you.
There are, of course, many kinds of sophistication by which the food values of foods are lost in processing or transportation, that could be corrected in the United States if public opinion would call for the undamaged product. We have the usual difficulty, in a country where big business exists, of getting enough free speech to tell the public the facts. Congress will jump on the Department of Agriculture or the Public Health Service if they talk too plainly. The newspapers and magazines do not say much that displeases big business. Books are the nearest thing to a free press that we have left in the United States.
Accordingly, when a book such as this one comes to break the taboo and spill some of the horrid facts about American food deficiencies, it is time for all good men to come to the aid of the country by buying and propagating it. This book can be easily criticized in minor detail, but its main points are well documented and of great importance to the security and prosperity of Americans, As soon as possible it should be in paper covers among the detective stories in the drug stores, for this is a story of worse than just a few little personal murders.