Four: Eight Poison Squads that Cry for Action
§ 52 -- The Madeira-Mamore Case
LET us see how the facts recorded through these pages are illuminated by certain human experiences of intense dramatic interest.
The Madeira-Mamore Railway Company in 1914 went into the hands of a receiver, after constructing a single track two hundred and thirty-two miles long connecting Bolivia with Brazil.
The first mile of this railway was laid just ten years ago, its object being to exploit the rubber industry of South America, not to advertise the dietetic virtues of ripe fruits, or fruit juices, or the deficiencies of American diet.
In the construction of its two hundred and thirty-two miles of track four thousand men were literally starved to death on a white bread diet. Those who escaped death owed their good fortune to the juice of fruits
Most of the victims of acidosis, or as they called the disease in the State of Matto-Grosso, "beri-beri," are buried in Candelania Graveyard, three kilometres south of Porta-Velho, midway between that town and Santo Antonio -- the district explored by Theodore Roosevelt.
When the appalling history of this poison squad holocaust was written by engineers connected with the enterprise all reference to the deaths by white bread starvation among the laborers, after a conference of the railroad officials, was deliberately blotted out. The officials thought the public might misinterpret the facts at the expense of the country through which the railroad had been projected, and it was decided as a good business policy that no mention should be made of the tragedy in the various articles written for electrical, engineering, and scientific publications.
When P. H. Ashmead, chief engineer of construction, himself a victim of white bread acidosis, reported on the number of deaths in camp, exception was taken to his figures and his list of four thousand victims was cut in two so that in the records of the tragedy only two thousand names appeared.
Ashmead, one of the best known consulting engineers of New York, on the day he discovered the first symptoms of his approaching breakdown, determined to take passage for England on the next vessel out. Terrified by what he saw going on about him he had good reason to fear that he, too, was entering the shadows of death.
The dietetic treatment he finally underwent and which saved him from interment in Candelaria Graveyard I shall describe.
H. F. Dose, one of the Madeira-Mamore engineers who devoted three years to the completion of the work started by P. H. Ashmead, fortunately made numerous observations and kept in close touch with the twenty physicians of the company. Three of these physicians, among whom was Dr. Lucian Smith, were stricken with the disease but escaped death.
All the facts of the expedition, interpreted under the light of the Kronprinz Wilhelm adventure, a poison squad classic that you will soon explore, confirm the instant need of reform.
The laborers, of whom there were originally six thousand, consisted of Russians, Greeks, Turks, Italians, Germans, English, Japs, Hindoos, French, Jamaicans, Barbadians and Brazilians. The officers, engineers and physicians were chiefly British and American.
The labourers received the equivalent of $2.40 a day in United States currency. They were charged by the Commissary Department an average of one dollar a day for their food. The cost of this food, its inadequacy considered, was so high that it included the lives of the men.
A half-pound tin of glucose jam was sold to them for one dollar. A No. 2 tin of canned sauerkraut sold for one dollar. A No. 1 tin of canned sausages sold for one dollar. The No. 1 tin contained thirteen ounces. The No. 2 tin contained twenty-seven ounces.
White bread constituted the chief foodstuff of the men. It was baked in the camp from patent flour imported from the United States in thousand-barrel lots, and was furnished by wholesale grocers in New York City under the most highly advertised brands on the market.
In addition to the white bread (acid-forming) were enormous quantities of hard white crackers (acid-forming) and tapioca (acid-forming) made from the root of the native cassava plant. Like farina, cream of the wheat, corn flakes, toasties, pearled barley, degerminated corn meal and polished rice, tapioca is a refined, denatured, demineralised, high-caloried, acidifying food.
Supplementing these one-sided units of nutrition were large quantities of lard (acid-forming), coffee, sugar (acid-forming), macaroni (acid-forming), and xarque (acid-forming). A few bags of rice (acid-forming) were also included.
In the nature of luxuries, sold to the men at enormous prices, were such foods as canned pork and beans (well balanced as to acid-forming and base-forming substances), canned spinach (which the men refused to eat because they did not like its quality), canned wieners (acid-forming), canned jam (acid-forming), corn flakes (acid-forming), oatmeal and condensed milk (well balanced).
The oatmeal and condensed milk were confined to the officers' quarters.
For breakfast the labourers ate white crackers and white bread with plenty of black coffee, sweetened with sugar. As they had to pay for their own meals, and pay heavily for them, they economised as much as possible, believing as most others believe, that bread is the staff of life, and in itself sufficient to maintain strength, energy and health.
At noon they ate white bread, white crackers and xarque, with more coffee and sugar. Occasionally dried codfish, ham or bacon was substituted for the xarque. Xarque is dried beef, which looks like leather. It is packed in slabs or layers, weighing fifty pounds each. Each slab is several inches thick, and as dry and hard as wood. Before cooking, the xarque was soaked over night in water, and then boiled.
In the evening the men ate more white bread, crackers and xarque, and occasionally indulged themselves in a can of sauerkraut, a can of pork and beans, or a can of jam.
The French, Jamaicans and Barbadians grouped together, and every day made what the others called "sinkers," a sort of heavy doughnut composed of white flour, sugar and water, fried in lard.
All of the foods in the labourers' camp, with the exception of the beans, which they ate sparingly on account of their high cost, were of the acid-forming type. The base-forming substances were not only deficient in quantity, they were not present at all.
Acidosis under such conditions was inevitable.
The officers, many of whom escaped serious forms of the disease, enjoyed a larger variety of foodstuffs from which to choose, including dried fruits (base-forming), nuts (base-forming), oatmeal (in itself almost a complete food), and potatoes (also base-forming).
Chief Engineer Ashmead, who ate largely of white bread, mashed potatoes and fresh meat, obtained by slaughtering in camp an occasional beef-steer imported on the hoof for that purpose, began to manifest the first symptoms of the disease almost as soon as the laborers themselves. The fresh meat, of which he partook abundantly, and which was reserved for the officers' use, did not act as a prophylaxis against the disease because fresh meat, or any other kind of meat, lacks the base-forming substances so indispensable to the integrity of the internal secretions.
The first symptoms observed among the laborers and officers affected were manifested in a tendency to stub their toes while walking along smooth roads. The foot would seem to drag. After that a slight swelling appeared in the ankles, which gradually extended upward to the knees with loss of sensation. When this swelling was at its height a dent in the flesh made by pressure of the finger would remain for a long time.
Shortness of breath and palpitation of the heart, with tremor of the nerves were the next symptoms, after which the men began to walk as though they were suffering from locomotor-ataxia, with the halting, hesitating, uncontrolled stride characteristic of that disease.
As the cases advanced the swelling subsided, and the leg gradually wasted away, until prior to death nothing remained apparently but the bone and skin.
Before death all the men were completely prostrated and helpless. None of the drugs with which the physicians were provided had any effect. Finally the doctors ordered "no more rice." They thought that rice was the bugaboo because they had been reading of the relationship between rice and "beri-beri." They did not know that rice had about as much to do with the fatal outbreak of the disease which they characterised as "beri-beri" as a baby carriage influences the eruption of the molars of its occupant.
As the poor devils gazed in the direction of Candelaria Graveyard where white flour was to disturb them no more, they might well have chanted, "Eventually! Why not now ?"
Chief Engineer Ashmead noticed the development of the disease in his own case under circumstances that impressed all its details upon his mind. The camp had lost a man in the jungle, so dense that once a man got into it he lost all sense of location. When lost it was a serious problem to find the way back to camp. Ashmead participated in an extended search for the missing man, which failed. As night came on he gave orders to blow the camp whistle at short intervals until morning, that the sound might give the lost man some guide through the heavy brush.
In directing the search Ashmead had to climb a slight hill. When he reached the top he was "out of breath" to such a degree that he had to stop in his tracks. When he removed his leggings that night he thought he noticed for the first time that he was "taking on flesh." He certainly was growing "stouter." His ankles were "thicker."
He soon became sure of this, for in a few days he found it difficult to buckle the straps of his leggings. Then came the consciousness that he was losing his appetite for bread and meat. For the first time in his life he experienced a craving for orange juice. He had never been fond of oranges until that time.
On the fifth day following the first appearance of his ankle symptoms he noticed when he pressed the flesh at the ankle his finger mark remained.
Laborers were dying around him everywhere. They had "beri-beri," the doctors all agreed. He examined their symptoms and discovered his were like theirs. "I've got it too !" he said, and the doctors ordered him away immediately.
He returned to England and on the ship fortunately found plenty of oranges. Throughout the entire journey he ate little else and after landing in England he continued to saturate himself with orange juice. Within sixty days his heart dilatation had disappeared and, except a depressing sense of lassitude for the following six months, he was apparently none the worse off for his experience.
Oranges are base-forming, as are the juices of all other fruits. The value of fruits consists in their alkaline mineral salts and feeble fruit acids.
Most fruits are rich in potassium and calcium salts, which are united with the tartaric, citric and malic acids that produce the agreeable flavours of the fruit. These feeble acids are quickly burned up or oxidised in the body into alkaline carbonates.
It has been demonstrated on hundreds of occasions that these fruit acids exercise a wonderfully benevolent action upon the blood and kidneys.
In such violent diseases as scurvy, beri-beri, anemia, neuritis, acidosis and other morbid conditions in which the tissues are bathed in acid secretions the alkaline minerals of fresh fruits prove invariably of great benefit.
The lemon, the orange and the grape are invaluable in such disorders.
The peculiarly pleasing fruity odour of ripe fruits is due to the presence of ethereal bodies which completely elude chemical investigation. Nobody knows just what they are. It is doubtful whether anybody ever will know.
Artificial fruit flavours, made in the laboratory from coal tar, ethers, esters and aldehydes, grossly resemble the odour and flavour of certain fresh fruits such as the peach, banana, pineapple, strawberry, and apple. They not only have no nutritive value but in many instances are actually dangerous because they are used to disguise otherwise inadequate foods to make then more pleasing to the palate.
Such foods never fool the stomach, yet where there is controversy between eminent scientists in the employ of commercial institutions, and apparent conflict between the methods adopted by the Almighty and the theories advocated by certain professors, the individual possessed of a little reverence for the things God has wrought and a little common sense with respect to his own body will decide against the professor in favour of God.
Ashmead, although he did not know it, was making use of the alkaline earthy salts of the orange to his own benefit.
There was no calcium in the Madeira-Mamore Railway poison squad diet.
One of the suppressed facts in connection with its mortality records was the scourge of tuberculosis that swept over the men who escaped "beri-beri."
Both Ashmead and Dose, from whom I have obtained in person the facts recorded here, informed me they lost as many men through tuberculosis as through the disease the doctors called "beri-beri." All other engineering enterprises, all other large contracting efforts, all other army or navy expeditions or exploring adventures in which, through accident or ignorance, the base-forming elements of food are not properly provided, meet with the same fate.
How can we forget that in a modified but none the less serious form our American school children, particularly the children of the poorer classes, are robbed of the elements of a base-forming diet?
In their limited selection of foods all the following refined, demineralised or acidosis-producing products are found: beef, pork, lamb, liver, ham, white bread, soda crackers, wafers, biscuits, doughnuts, buns, rolls, pie crust, lard, lard compound, cake, corn flakes, corn meal, farina, tapioca, polished rice, corn starch, sugar, glucose, syrups, cheap jams and jellies, penny candies, etc.
The chief base-forming foods are oranges, lemons and ripe fruits of all kinds, the outer grains, such as whole wheat, whole corn, natural brown rice, whole rye, greens of all kinds, lettuce, beet tops, celery, spinach, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, asparagus, the roots of tubers, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, beans, peas, lentils, nuts of every kind and unsuiphured dried fruits, such as prunes, black raisins, currants, sun-dried apples, apricots and peaches.
Egg albumen or egg white, like meat, is acid-forming.
Egg yolks are base-forming.
Milk is physiologically balanced, as to base-forming and acid-forming substances.
In accordance with their custom or ability to obtain eggs, an abundance of milk, fruits and vegetables properly cooked, the children of the poor are saved from the extreme acidosis which kills quickly as it did along the Madeira-Mamore Railway.
So many thousands suffer from malnutrition without knowing it, from anemia, from impaired vitality, from lowered resistance to disease, from "laziness," and from other serious departures from normal physical stamina that end in misery, impaired efficiency and untimely death, that it is time indeed the public understood the relationship between base-forming and acid-forming foods.
The death of the four thousand railway laborers who built those two hundred and thirty-two miles of railway that run by the Candelaria Graveyard represent not only preventable loss of life, due to ignorance of the laws of nutrition, but they also represent tremendous financial losses sustained by the builders of the railway who, handicapped by sickness and inefficiency, poured more money into the construction of their project -- a hundred-fold more -- than would have been necessary had the diet of their men been properly safeguarded and less false economy invoked.
Men who are not fed properly cannot yield productive energies. Sick men or dead men cannot build or dig. Soldiers improperly fed cannot long endure under the terrific strain to which they are subjected.
It is a curious but tragic fact that thousands of healthy monkeys played around the Madeira-Mamore camp where human beings were dying by the score. The monkeys lived, enjoyed life and maintained their energy and activity on a diet of tropical fruits and nuts. Their presence in the vicinity of the sick laborers, who fell as fast as they might fall in battle, seemed to be an effort of Mother Nature to speak to her unfortunate human children, suggesting a remedy for their misery.
The food of the monkeys was available. It was base-forming food, but the men, who, even as labourers, had conceived astonishing ideas of class distinction, had already dubbed it "monkey food." In their reluctance to subsist on "monkey food" they rejected what would have saved them, even as the sailors aboard the Kronprinz Wilhelm rejected and sank the whole wheat cargoes of two British merchantmen, notwithstanding their dire need of the thousands of pounds of bran and germ contained in those cargoes.
With respect to his food man has ever been a contradiction and a fool. The fixed laws which control the processes of nutrition are so simple, so obvious and so actually luminous that a child of twelve can grasp them.
Man alone is the only animal that ignores them. The Great White Plague and many of the other ills directly traceable to inadequate food, through the use of which the human body is deprived of the elements necessary to maintain its integrity, could be banished from the human race if the human race would only apply to its dietary the fixed laws which control the resistance of the sheep and horse to the same disease, and the disregard of which makes the hog and the cow a constant prey to it.
The reluctance of the Madeira-Mamore poison squad to eat "monkey food" and the ignorance of the crew of the Kronprinz Wilhelm in rejecting foods that would have saved them, have done more than merely breaking down the Brazilian railroad, more than merely compelling a German raider to make a dash for port with a crew of sick men.
They have brought home to America the importance and the significance of understanding its food supply, and of making a belated resistance to the inroads which commercialism, stupidity and false taste-standards are making upon them and their children.
§ 54 -- Sherman, Forbes, Hart, Maxwell, Steinitz, Zadic, Leipziger, Rohman, Gumpert, Ehrstrom, Mettler, Sinclair, Voit
Does the Madeira-Mamore poison squad really bear any relationship to the average American food?
Henry C. Sherman, Columbia University, declares: "Possibly because the crudity of the views formerly held and still sometimes met (especially in fraudulent advertisements of proprietary foods) tended to bring the subject of nutrition into ridicule, the study of the phosphates and other phosphorus compounds in food and nutrition was very generally neglected. Recently, however, the significance of phosphorus in the growth, development and functions of the organism is at last being adequately recognised."
Phosphorus was only one of the twelve mineral elements removed from the foodstuffs of the Madeira-Mamore poison squad. The investigations of Forbes, at the Ohio Experiment Station, indicate that much of the malnutrition is not due to a low protein diet, but to a deficiency of phosphorus and calcium in the food supply.
Here are but two of the mineral elements specially studied in the diet of hogs, cows, and American homes. Let us look at them, unmindful of the other ten.
Phosphorus is found in the body as phosphorised proteins called nucleo-proteins existing in the cells and tissues. True phospho-proteins exist in casein (milk) and ovovitellin (egg yolk). In brain and nerve substances, and also to some extent in other tissues, the phosphorus appears as phosphorised fats called lecithins. Egg yolk is particularly rich in this form of phosphorus; so is the discarded germ of wheat, corn, rice, and barley.
Less highly organised forms of phosphorus are utilised by the body as phytin compounds or phytates. Wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, and buckwheat, in their natural unrefined state, contain phosphorus in this form in abundant quantities.
Maxwell, in observing germinating seeds and developing chick embryos, found that in the construction of the tissues of the growing vegetable or animal organism, the phosphorised fats played a most important part.
Steinitz, Zadik, and Leipziger discovered that these various phosphorus compounds could not be substituted one for the other. Simple proteins with inorganic phosphates do not make a substitute for phospho-proteins.
Rohman has shown that the phosphorised proteins furnish the material for tissue growth.
Gumpert and Erdstrom demonstrated that phosphorus equilibrium was maintained in experiments upon men when the phosphorus was consumed in the form of phospho-proteins, whereas when taken as dicalcium phosphate or as the potassium phosphate of meat the same quantity of phosphorus would not serve the needs of the body.
Hart, in feeding hogs in experiments conducted in the Wisconsin Experiment Station, found that 1.12 grams of phosphorus per day in its various compounds was just about sufficient for the hogs until they attained a weight of about eighty-five pounds, after which 1.12 grams became clearly insufficient for the needs of the animal.
Sherman, commenting upon this fact, states: "1.12 grams of phosphorus would hardly seem a desirable amount for a growing child of the same size, or for a fully grown man or woman."
It was said, as we have seen, that the Madeira-Mamore laborers died of "beri-beri," although the phosphorus had been removed from their food prior to their deaths.
Sherman, Mettler, and Sinclair, through the office of experiment stations, United States Department of Agriculture, reported a comparison of the amount of phosphorus contained in the food of typical American families. They did not go to the Madeira-Mamore poison squad for their facts. They went right into the homes of the people and showed that a freely chosen diet of our typical denatured food products does not furnish much more than 1.12 grams of phosphorus, estimated as 2.75 grams phosphorus pentoxide.
These investigations were carried out in a lawyer's family in Pittsburgh; a teacher's family in Indiana; a school superintendent's family in Chicago; a teacher's family in New York City; a students' club in Tennessee; 115 women students in Ohio; a carpet dyer's family in New York; a sewing woman's family in New York; a house decorator's family in Pittsburgh; a glass blower's family in Pittsburgh; two mill workers' families in Pittsburgh; a mechanic's family in Knoxville, Tenn.; thirty lumber men in Maine; a farmer's family in Connecticut; a farmer's and mechanic's family in Tennessee; thirteen men students, five women students and one child in Knoxville, Tenn.; two Negro farmers' families in Alabama.
The study continued fifty-eight days and took the average from 12,238 meals consumed by men and 798 meals consumed by women.
Speaking of these analyses Sherman declares: "The results indicate that present food habits lead to a deficiency of phosphorus compounds and it is not improbable that many cases of malnutrition are really due to an inadequate supply of phosphorus compounds." He was cautious in his conclusions, but explicit. He did not comment on the fact that in removing the phosphorus from natural food all the other mineral salts, colloids, and vitamines with which phosphorus is associated are also automatically removed in the process, because one cannot be removed without carrying the others with it.
His experiments have proved, notwithstanding that in the American home many offsetting foods are consumed which were not available in the Madeira-Mamore poison squad, the mineral elements necessary to normal metabolism are nevertheless deficient in the typical American meal.
Next to tuberculosis the most commonly talked of infirmity of human flesh is the disorder popularly described as "heart disease."
Heart disease, as we know from the insurance companies, is constantly increasing in the United States. In all cases of mineral starvation brought about by a prolonged diet of refined food, examination of the heart shows dilatation. The heart is always enlarged following a diet of the kind so few of us have fed to chickens.
Malnutrition and "enlargement of the heart" can almost be said to be synonymous.
In the food deficiency disease described as "beri-beri" the heart is always involved, just as it was involved aboard the Kronprinz Wilhelm and in the Madeira-Mamore Poison Squad.
In the disease which confused commentators sometimes call "acidosis," sometimes "pellagra," sometimes "edema," sometimes "neuritis," sometimes "general breakdown," the heart is always involved.
It is peculiarly noteworthy that the recorded increase in 'heart disease" runs parallel with the symptom of milling introduced in the United States about 1879. Remember the heart of the dead frog. You will hear of it again.
Numerous instances are on record indicating that a deficiency of iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and the other mineral salts, colloids and vitamines always found with these salts in unmanipulated milk, butter fat, whole cereals, fresh vegetables, greens, and fruits leads to numerous forms of physical disorder in which "heart trouble" is one of the constant factors.
Many cases are on record proving that where offsetting foods are entirely missing from a refined food diet, the heart becomes involved in from forty to sixty days.
Many other instances are on record showing that where "off-setting" foods are consumed to an extent sufficient to retard the progress of mineral starvation, the development of the disease is delayed accordingly.
It is now known that where refined or demineralised foods make up a considerable portion of the diet the disease may be postponed for years, and then may be described as merely a mild or unrecognisable disorder, accompanied by a few not necessarily alarming but nevertheless unpleasant symptoms which do not, as a rule, cause their victim to become unduly anxious about his health.
Where the diet is abundant and includes a wide variety of foods, as in the case of the average business man who partakes of a more or less pretentious noon-day meal, while his growing family is lunching on left-overs at home, the body seems capable of adjusting itself to a considerable abuse of acid-forming foods over a long period. The chapters on fatigue poisons will throw, in their proper place, a bright light on this dark subject.
It is now well established, however, that after the fortieth year the effects of mineral deficiencies begin to manifest themselves in "heart disease," the great fatigue accountant.
Until 1913 the medical profession in which the "show me" philosophy persists as nowhere else, was generally of the opinion that the disease called "beri-beri" was confined to the tropics.
For this reason it was never suspected that the "heart disease" of the United States and the "beri-beri" of the Orient might in some manner be related to each other, or at least due to causes which, while dissimilar in intensity, were nevertheless the same in character.
November 6, 1913, Dr. Herman D. Parker, of the United States Public Health Service, was detailed by his superiors to Elizabeth, N. J., to investigate an epidemic described as "jail edema," which had broken out in the county jail.
In this jail, as in many others, the food served its inmates was of the typical refined type, consisting chiefly of white bread-stuffs, polished rice, boiled potatoes, oleomargarine, beef clods and coffee.
Its prisoners were confined only while awaiting trial under indictment, or serving a sentence of less than one year.
For fifteen years prior to the investigation of Dr. Parker, the Elizabeth County Jail, like most other jails, had developed a history of periodical epidemics of "jail edema."
Dr. Livingood, the jail physician, had made a record for three years of the mysterious disorder which had plagued his prisoners, noting that eighty percent of all the prisoners serving more than ninety days fell victims to the disease, which the United States Government officials finally diagnosed as "beri-beri," but which, as we shall see later on, has been described by other groups of Government officials as "pellagra."
In Dr. Parker's Public Health report of the Elizabeth Jail investigation he stated: "The fact that the disease existed so long without recognition in one locality leads to the supposition that it probably exists under similar circumstances in other localities."
"Dilated heart," "heart dilatation," "heart enlarged," are some of the official phrases used in describing the physical condition of the heart, in all the Elizabeth County Jail cases examined.
The fact, not the theory, that in every one of these Elizabeth County Jail cases involvement of the heart was noted as one of the chief symptoms, and the further fact that a demineralised diet of refined foods of the same kind consumed in such large measure by our growing children, most of whom are never destined to break into jail, was finally fixed as the cause of the disease, are singular indeed when it is considered that in "pellagra" and "beri-beri" and "jail edema" and "war nephritis" the heart is always involved in the same way.
The significance of this fact is still further emphasised when it is considered that the same character of "heart disease" is on the constant increase in the United States.
May 26, 1915, the British Steamer Dewa arrived at Quarantine in New York from Cienfuegos. It had been reported by wireless that on the vessel's trip from Rangoon to Natal, Brazil, eight of the crew had died of "beri-beri" and twenty-five more cases were on board.
Health Officer O'Connell boarded the boat when she arrived at midnight, and found a condition which caused something of a hubbub, although the same condition in more or less modified form is found all over the City of New York and no hubbub follows.
With Health Department Inspectors Kearney and Fallon, under the authorisation of Commissioner S. S. Goldwater, I made an investigation of the food of the crew, from which twenty-five cases of "beri-beri" were taken to the hospital at Swinburne Island.
Just six weeks before, the sailors had commenced to feel the effects of their diet, in substance almost identical with the diet of the Elizabeth County Jail.
The Dewa was putting on a cargo of sugar at the Keys in Cienfuegos, Cuba, when one of the sick men died. Two others followed in quick succession.
The health officer of Cienfuegos, yellow inside, although not yellow outside, ordered the Dewa to sea at once. The English officers aboard were astounded. They protested.
First Officer A. Chambers and Steward A. Batterman declared they had never witnessed such an inhuman act.
"What shall we do? Our men need hospital treatment," was their appeal to the health officer.
"Go," was the answer.
And so, ordered from the dock, they put to sea with their cargo of sugar and sick men.
The health officer did not want to know the nature of the disease. He did not want his professional training to fructify on the spot. He cared nothing for diagnosis, prognosis, or therapeutics; all he demanded was that the crew of sick men should go out to sea and die.
It was nothing to him where they went, provided only they left Cienfuegos.
It did not concern him what kind of disease the Dewa might carry to some other port.
He didn't know that he had the remedy for the disease at hand, and could have saved all its victims.
He wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair, and he washed them, to his ignominy and disgrace, henceforth forever.
We shall let him pass.
Unable to obtain proper food or medicine, the Dewa sailed for New York. Five more of her men died at sea.
At the time of her arrival off New York nearly half her crew had succumbed. None of the officers was stricken. The firemen and deck crew were the chief victims.
According to the ship's manual, prepared by a British surgeon, the treatment for "beri-beri" is arsenic, strychnia and salt, followed by a diet of white bread and tea.
The steward was sure the Dewa's crew was suffering from "beri-beri" so, although he had no strychnia or arsenic aboard, he prescribed plenty of white bread and tea.
Upon their arrival they were taken to the hospital for more white bread and tea.
The daily food of the crew prescribed by the Government of India was as follows:
Natural brown rice ("ballam"), one pound, six ounces.
Wheat flour ("morda"), unbolted, ten ounces.
Dried peas ("dal"), six ounces.
Buffalo grease ("ghee"), two ounces.
Salt, one-half ounce.
Curry stuffs, one ounce.
Dried fish ("bhetki"), four ounces.
Potatoes and onions, six ounces.
Tamarinds, one ounce.
Tea, one-fourth ounce.
Sugar, one and one-half ounce.
Lime juice, one ounce
The fish aboard was called "bhetki."
The "morda" was baked into cakes ("chupattee") with water and "ghee."
This diet would have prevented neuritis, pellagra, scurvy, edema, beri-beri or acidosis, but the supply of natural brown rice ran low. The peas were exhausted, and in their place the steward bought a quantity of white American flour and white American polished rice.
The crew divided themselves into two groups. One group would not eat the polished rice nor the white flour. The other group would not eat the natural brown rice.
None of the sailors who lived on the natural brown rice contracted the disease, in spite of the fact that the rice was musty.
I was face to face with the fact, not the theory, that whole unpolished rice, even when musty, will support life for sixty days, but on a diet of white flour for the same time, Man, regardless of his colour, will collapse.
I asked the steward what had become of the tamarinds.
"We did not stow enough of them," he replied. "Oh, if we only could have had some dates or other fruit."
He knew nothing of the base-forming quality of fruit, but he craved tamarinds and dates. Dates would have prevented the "beri-beri."
As a rule, even before the war, when dates were plentiful, the people looked upon them as luxuries, not as a medicinal food.
If the people of the world knew the value of the date, raisin, or of any other fruit, they would not only marvel over it as Moses did, but they would have it in their homes all the time.
The steward of the Dewa yearned for dates, but he could not get them on the open sea.
The American people, able at all times to put their hands on large quantities of fruit, eat sparingly of it -- alas! too sparingly.
Looking at the date, as a mere fact, we find so many wonders that our American indifference toward it cannot be explained.
The date, like all other fruit, has saved lives wherever men have existed.
The instincts of the Dewa's steward ran true. It did not occur to him that the date will grow where nothing else will grow. All that he knew was that it did not grow at sea, and that he could not get it there.
The date palm in the hot deserts actually converts the dead sands that doze in the sweltering sun into a food, the flavour of which is not rivalled in the food world, and the value of which is the astonishment of the chemical laboratory.
Moses knew what he was about when he gave especial care to fruit trees. He forbade the Jews to cut fruit trees down even on their enemies' land. In this respect also he was unlike the Kaiser.
The Dewa's steward, when I told him of Moses's attitude toward fruit, and explained to him what fruit would have done for his sick crew, leaned dejectedly against the rail of the ship and said: "Moses was a wise man."
Even the heathens knew the value of fruits, inventing special gods to protect them, such as Pomona, Vertumnus, Minerva.
The palm tree on which the date grows was common among the Hebrews. They extracted honey from its fruit. They made bread and cakes from it.
Dried and reduced to flour, caravans in the desert lived on it, but they did not sift it through gritz gauze or bolt it through silk cloth to take the life out of it for refinement's sake.
The Romans cherished it as the most aristocratic ingredient in many of their most famous dishes.
Our modern victims of folly are not blessed with any such enthusiasm. They are simply "modern."
About the time the symptoms of mineral starvation were manifesting themselves aboard the converted German cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm on the high seas, physicians and surgeons connected with the federal public health service were undertaking a series of tests to demonstrate that pellagra was caused by improper food, and that the elimination of the cause would cure the disease.
An exhaustive review of facts relating to the diet of workingmen's families, particularly among the poorer classes, resulted in the disclosure that pellagra always followed a diet rich in carbohydrates (refined, sugars and starches) and that it had a tendency to show itself wherever there was a rise in the cost of food, thus making it harder for the poorer families to obtain a nourishing diet.
In the facts compiled, not one reference was made to the necessity of substituting whole corn meal undegerminated, either white or yellow.
No reference was made to the fact that whole wheat meal converted into bread and breadstuffs, instead of the white bread and biscuits of the south, would prevent pellagra.
No reference was made to the fact that natural brown rice, freshly milled, so easily obtainable in the south, should be substituted for the polished and demineralised product extensively consumed among the poor.
No reference was made to the fact that all these foods could be obtained at a price even cheaper than their refined, demineralised, and inadequate commercial substitutes, consumed in such enormous quantities throughout the United States.
Dr. Joseph Goldberger, who was among those to visit the stricken crew of the Kronprinz Wilhelm, April, 1915, had been seriously concerned with the obvious inadequacy of the diet of the thousands of victims of pellagra every year in the south.
Accordingly, three experiment stations were established, two at Jackson, Miss., and the third at the Georgia State Sanatorium.
In his preliminary study of 200 cases during the spring and summer of 1914, Goldberger had come to the conclusion that "carbohydrate foods" are responsible for pellagra, and, accordingly, he urged a reduction in the diet of starchy foods in the treatment of the disease.
Then came the sensational poison squad experience in which twelve convicts, six of whom were murderers, risked their lives in the interests of medical science in order to enable Goldberger to prove his theory that pellagra is directly due to the consumption of inadequate food.
These victims in the Mississippi penitentiary were fed exclusively on degerminated and demineralised corn products.
November 2, 1915, after six of the men had developed pellagra in a pronounced form, and two others had shown definite symptoms of the disease, Governor Brewer pardoned them all.
The authorities had kept the test as secret as possible. They feared that relatives of the prisoners who submitted to the ordeal, might invoke the habeas corpus or resort to some other legal device to rescue the victims of the experiment.
Several of the convicts attempted suicide during the test. Two of them, Guy R. James and D. W. Pitts, made formal application to the penitentiary board to be sent back to their cells in order that they might serve their life terms in preference to continuing further the sufferings they underwent.
One of the pardoned convicts, W. H. English, describing his experience on the day following his pardon, stated:
"For the first few months I felt only lazy and stupid. Along about July 1 I began to lose weight. At that time I tipped the scales at 167 pounds. Now I weigh 118 pounds. When Governor Brewer pardoned us yesterday he told us we could remain in the penitentiary and be cured by a 'balanced diet' treatment. One might think this invitation would have been accepted by some, but not even one of the eleven accepted it. The twelfth had broken down two months before and was sent home." It was reported that he had committed suicide.
As a result of the pellagra poison squad experience the following remedy, which in no manner refers to whole grains or unrefined cereals or adequate breadstuffs, was set forth:
- "An increase in the diet of fresh animal and leguminous foods."
- "Ownership of milk cow and increased milk production for home consumption."
- "Poultry and egg raising for home consumption."
- "Stock raising."
- "Reduction in the diet of the carbohydrate or starchy foods."
- "Diversification and the cultivation of food crops, including an adequate pea patch, in order to minimise the disastrous effects of a crop failure and to make food cheaper and more readily available."
- "Make the other class of foods cheap and readily accessible."
- "Improve economic conditions, increase wages and reduce unemployment."
To these recommendations with which it will be difficult if not impossible to conform, the following may some day be added:
- Eat the foods already at hand, but eat them in their natural, unrefined state. (Not difficult.)
- Grind the whole corn and consume it in the form of corn bread, corn pone, corn cake, corn porridge, containing all of the corn. (Not difficult.)
- Adopt the same principle with regard to wheat, barley and rice. (Not difficult.)
- Eat something green every day and make sauces or soups of the waters in which vegetables are boiled, instead of throwing them down the waste pipe or into the sink. (Not difficult.)
- Forget the fresh meat if you can't get it and use milk and eggs, beans, peas and lentils instead. (At least not as difficult as getting and keeping a cow.) Economical and sensible.
But a mere fragment of the real value of the pellagra poison squad has been given to the world. Through faulty interpretation the sufferings of men, so severe that their very violence caused some of them to attempt suicide, have been in this experiment almost lost to their fellows, even as the Kronprinz Wilhelm experience was lost to humanity.
According to the reports given out the men were fed collards, hominy, corn bread, corn grits, fried mush, biscuits, brown gravy, rice, coffee, and sugar. Nothing was said of the fact that hominy is a demineralised, degerminated, refined corn product; that corn bread is the same kind of a demineralised corn product; that fried mush, made from degerminated corn meal or grits is the same kind of a refined corn product, and that it was not because they were corn, but because they were bolted corn, only part of the corn, that a diet of such foods resulted in disastrous consequences, which consequences, in this case, were aptly named "pellagra," just as they would have been named something else had they been named by another set of scientists.
Before reviewing the most startling poison squad experiment of all time it will be well to emphasise the significance of the Madeira-Mamore tragedy and the Elizabeth County Jail episode by checking up on the feeding of sheep and hogs.
Figures provided by the United States Bureau of Animal Industry show that less than three one-hundredths of 1 percent of all the sheep killed in one federal inspected slaughterhouse during a period of twelve months ended November 1, 1913, had to be condemned on account of disease; whereas in another establishment of the same kind one-sixth of all the hogs slaughtered during the same twelve months had to be condemned.
This means that for every one sheep found to be diseased 528 hogs were found to be similarly affected. This vast difference, startling in its suggestiveness, between the sheep and the hog, in regard to their respective resistance to disease, draws attention to the difference between the methods whereby they are fed.
There are hundreds of examples of the manner in which the condition of an animal's tissue tone and general health are affected by its food.
The bureau of Animal Industry, Bulletin 25, issued December 16, 1913, reports on the fact that cattle fattened on an artificial diet of cottonseed cake and beet pulp, notwithstanding the presence of silage in their food, lost by shrinkage while still alive more than twice as much weight as cattle fed on the natural diet of grasses and the seeds of grasses, during transit from point of origin to destination.
September, 1900, Dr. Oscar Liebreich of the Imperial Board of Health, Berlin (Geheimer Medicinalrath, Ordenlicher Professor der Heilmittellehre und Direktor des Pharmakologischen Instituts des Konigischen Universitat, Berlin), made the following report on the use of coloring matter by sausage makers:
"It is now close upon half a century since the coloring of palecolored sausages was introduced. Many farmers and cattle breeders have now adopted the method which enables them to enhance the weight of their cattle and hogs. Instead of feeding, as used to be done, with leguminous substances with bran, potatoes, skim milk, etc., the animals now get all sorts of so-called strengthening feeds: Farmhouse refuse (tankage, garbage, by-products of breweries, cottonseed meal, exhausted pulp) and the like.
"This method of fattening produces a considerable modification in the composition of the flesh. While under the old system of feeding, animals with solid, substantial, muscular flesh, rich in colouring substance, were produced, the flesh formed by present artificial feeds is very fat, contains a great deal of water, and is very poor in colouring substance.
"The old system of feeding produced the fleshy pork; the new system produces fat pork.
"While formerly sausages were of a good red colour, they are now always pale. Hence the dye must be employed where people want the true character of modern pork to be disguised to resemble what it should be."
Here we have the rapid shrinking of the water-logged tissues of the artificially fed cattle and the anemic flesh of artificially fed hogs to teach us the dangers of refined food in the production of enfeebled vitality and disease.
The sheep still feeds itself as it has fed for thousands of years. It follows nature's instinct. It knows nothing of the artificial by-products upon which dairy cows and hogs are crammed. In consequence it resists nearly all diseases and maintains a state of normal health.
In 1913 M. B. Ravenel, professor of bacteriology of the University of Wisconsin, made an examination of conditions in the slaughter houses of Wisconsin and other states. In addition to the many other diseases with which he found the hog to be cursed, he declared in his report:
"Twenty percent of the average lot of hogs brought to slaughter are tuberculous. These hogs do not develop the disease within themselves, but contract it by feeding on by-products of creameries and following tuberculous cows engaged in the production of milk."
Here we have a startling similarity between the pale, watery tissues of the hog, including the diseases to which such devitalised tissues offer little or no resistance, and the pale complexion, anemia or hemoglobin deficiency of the human being.
Dr. Rolf Wilson is responsible for the following statement, published in the Medical Times, January, 1914: "R. L. Babcock, Chicago, rarely finds in city dwellers the hemoglobin above 90.
I believe the prime reason for this," he says, "is the demineralisation of the food now put upon the market." In the deficiency of certain food minerals in the diet of the hog the same results are noticed as those observed in the human animal under similar conditions of mineral deficiency. We shall now see how this similarity has asserted itself in the most extraordinary poison squad experiment of history.
On April 11th, 1915, the Germans brought to the shores of America a poison squad, the first real poison squad of history. There never was a poison squad like it. There probably will never be another. All the so-called scientific short-time feeding experiments, and all their misleading results were put to shame by the experience of the Kaiser's sailors.
Yet, to this day, the governments of the United States, Great Britain and France have persistently ignored the lesson unwittingly taught by the Germans. It is doubtful if the Germans themselves have profited by that lesson.
April 11th, 1915, the converted cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm was discovered lying at anchor in the James River, off Newport News, to which port she had followed her raiding predecessor the Prinz Eitel (Attila) Friedrich.
After sinking fourteen French and British merchantmen, she had successfully run the gauntlet that brought her to her safe retreat in American waters. No one in the world dreamed that Sunday morning that the Kronprinz Wilhelm would some day carry American troops to France.
We are not concerned with the raider's exploits before she flew the Stars and Stripes, but with the consequences of her marvellous experience under the German flag.
When she put into Newport News she was stricken with a disease the doctors called "beri-beri."
One hundred and ten of her crew of five hundred were prostrated. The others were on the verge. Throughout the newspapers of the United States was spread the report that the sailors were the victims of eating polished rice.
Government experts, state experts, specialists in private practice, and great numbers of eminent health officers and physicians, hastened to the ship to hold consultations over the curious disease. They all pronounced it beri-beri and they all insisted it was caused by eating polished rice.
The medical magazines had been filled with discussions of beri-beri, always associating the disease with a diet of polished rice. Beri-beri and polished rice had become "scientific" twins. It was orthodox to think of them together, hence the opinion of the experts was sound enough to satisfy the world.
When, April 16th, 1915, I climbed up the side of the vessel (I will tell you how I got there later), I was admitted to the consultation of twelve doctors and officers who were discussing the queer malady, its cause and its possible remedy. "Surely it is beri-beri," they were saying, "but how does beri-beri differ from pellagra, and how does pellagra differ from scurvy, and how does scurvy differ from neuritis, and how does neuritis differ from pernicious anemia, and why is the disease not scurvy instead of beri-beri, and why is it not pellagra instead of either?" and so on and so on.
There they sat, this group of mystified scientists, in the diningroom over the grand salon of the once famous North German Lloyd Transatlantic liner. The luxurious salon itself had been filled with coal. The ship's sumptuous cabins de luxe had been filled with coal.
Mystery, tragedy, contradiction and disease brooded in the heart of that once palatial ship.
The bewilderment of the doctors was not wonderful, for the Kronprinz Wilhelm herself was but a symbol of the bewilderment of the whole world.
I had no business on that ship. I had been ordered to keep off. I had exhausted every conceivable device and pulled every wire of influence. I had appealed to Washington in vain. I tried to act as a messenger for a ship chandler.
I had tried all the prominent physicians of Newport News, the Collector of Customs, the politicians. Everywhere I received the same answer. Journalists were barred from that ship by an edict that recognised no exception. The order of von Bernstorff was sweeping and from it there was no appeal.
In despair I stood afar off and watched the sombre grey hulk with her four grey smokestacks and her four grey guns. There, locked up in her sullen heart, was a great truth of unrecognised significance which America must soon learn or for her continued ignorance of which pay a dismal price.
I was barred from that truth. I was not permitted to pass it along. I was not a member of the inner circle of established reputations. Scientific bigotry and narrow ethics were keeping me out. I had no right to be interested in science yet I had given more study to the causes of malnutrition and had addressed more physicians on that one subject than perhaps any other man in America.
Why not outwit the pretence and the superiority and get aboard in the guise of some eminent person? Truth belongs to all. There is no monopoly of it. In its presence the strategies of war dwarf in dignity to the vanishing point. Strategy was the last resort.
It worked. Through its operation I found the truth and in possession of it am able to contradict the scientific opinions that then swept across the country and that still continue to pose as truth. Polished rice had no more to do with the disease then ravaging the crew of the Kronprinz Wilhelm than horseshoes have to do with thunderbolts.
In addition to finding the truth I found myself in an embarrassing, a trying, a thrilling predicament. I had engaged the best launch available and in dignity was taken alongside the cruiser, where I presented the card of a celebrated New York physician to the officer who asked me what I wanted. I requested him politely to deliver "my card" to the ship's surgeon. In five minutes I was summoned aboard and ushered through long shady passages covered with German inscriptions and photographs of the Emperor into the consultation room.
Twelve men, seated around a great table, arose to greet the "eminent physician." The ship's surgeon, Dr. E. Perrenon, and her officers, saluted me in semi-military fashion. Then the dignity of my entrance was exploded as if by a bomb.
A prominent health officer, one of the group of consulting scientists, recognised me. "Why," he exclaimed in a loud voice, "here is McCann of the New York Globe." It seemed that I had never heard such a loud voice in all the world. It sounded like a volley from the cruiser's four-inch guns.
Turning to the ship's officers, he continued, his voice seemingly louder than before, "Mr. McCann is a representative of a New York newspaper." Every word was separate and distinct. The entire sentence was full of barbed-wire and bayonets. Turning to me before any of the others could speak, he finished his assault by saying: "Where did you get the card you sent in? What is its meaning ?"
Everybody bristled. An imposter had been discovered aboard the ship of science. Perhaps his mission was hostile. At any rate he was a newspaper man and newspaper men were anathema. The men remained standing, awaiting an explanation. I gave it to them. Some of them may be thinking of it yet.
It was no time for soft speeches. It was no time for ignorance in high places. It was no time for shrinking courtesy. The scientific gentlemen heard what was said and for the benefit of the learned and superior persons who talk glibly of beri-beri and polished rice, it is all set down here.
I had no apology for my words and no time to waste. If there was beri-beri on that ship there were thousands of cases of the same disease in every State in the Union, and there was no earthly reason why a group of scientists should suddenly become hysterical over a condition on a German cruiser while lying at their own feet at home there were hundreds of such conditions which the scientists ignored.
No man interrupted me. I was as much shocked at their silence as they were at my impertinence, so I kept on and reminded them of many of the neglected truths of the diseases of dietetic origin.
Finally the ship's surgeon abandoned his seat at the table and advanced toward me. He extended his hand. He smiled. From that moment I knew we were friends. "I will hear all you have to say after the others have departed," he said.
When the others had boarded a launch and were taken ashore, he retired with me to his headquarters, and after an hour's conversation sent for the ship's cook. The three of us had it out together.
The polished rice explanation was the first lie to vanish. Polished rice was not responsible for the pathetic condition of the crew, for the reason that polished rice never appeared oftener than once in twenty-one meals.
But what did the men eat? The answer to that question is one of the most important issues now confronting America, Great Britain and France.
Next: 60. Two Hundred and Fifty-Five Days!
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