Pulling Together Some Disparate Strands

I eat when I'm upset, OK?

Yesterday we closed with Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ both advising their followers to chew each bite of food into a liquid state. We have also talked about Horace Fletcher, the writer and lecturer who espoused the same rule. In the late 1800s and early 1900s he enjoyed popularity, but then was relegated to the storeroom of the national consciousness.

As recently as 2008, his ideas were derided as wacky examples of pseudo-science. Still, Cracked.com set forth the main precept in a forthright way:

Fletcher reasoned that food needed to be chewed about 32 to 80 times before being swallowed in order to properly mix with saliva. By the time you are ready to swallow your food, he suggested, the food should be in liquid form.

This was characterized by Cracked as one of “The 6 Most Insane Crash Diets of All Time,” which is a pretty strong indictment. There is nothing irrational about wanting to pry every possible unit of nutrition from our food. We paid for it, we took the trouble to cook it — why not reap all the benefits?

As for the crash diet label, although Fletcher himself lost many pounds, he does not seem to have touted his program as a weight-loss solution. To him, it was more about the achievement of a sane mind housed in an optimally functioning organism.

It’s hard to understand why such a practical suggestion as chewing one’s food could excite as much ridicule as it has. True, Fletcher had some other ideas that might raise eyebrows, that maybe even sound a bit wacky. But writers are allowed to use hyperbole and satire.

On the deepest level, he seems to have been morally grounded. A 1896 news story said:

In his studies and travels in Japan and China, he became profoundly impressed with the belief that all evil passions might be eradicated by killing the germs of them… There was no thought of commercial gain when the work was published. The gentle philosopher simply thought of teaching others how to get along in the world without trouble or worry.

“The work” was Fletcher’s book, Menticulture; or, The A-B-C of true living, in which he advocated reaching a state of Emancipation, or unimpaired mental and spiritual growth. (He was New Age-y like a hippie, but at the same time belonged to the notorious Bohemian Club, where the elite politicians and corporate moguls hung out.) Here are a few thoughts from Menticulture:

Anger is the root of all the aggressive passions. Worry is the root of all the cowardly passions… Fear is possibly the truer name for the cowardly root-passion… Anger and worry not only dwarf and depress, but sometimes kill… In Emancipation there is no fear, (or worry) and consequently no fuel for discord… Emancipation is a disarmament which disarms others, but adds strength to itself.

We reviewed how Fletcher’s insistence on complete chewing has been at least partially vindicated by more recent studies showing that unsaturated fat (the good kind) is more completely absorbed, and that there are beneficial effects on the hormones that influence hunger, and that Chinese subjects took in 12% fewer calories as a result of fletcherizing. So there has been solid, laboratory-based evidence that he was on the right track.

But there are also indications that he was right in ways that he didn’t even know, and that people who tried his method received benefits for reasons that Fletcher himself did not suspect. What if the mechanical action of chewing itself somehow helped his followers to feel better? This possibility is suggested by other findings, methods and theories it might be useful to think about in juxtaposition to Fletcher’s work, and his desire that people would feel well, be healthy and happy, and conduct themselves peacefully in relation to their fellow humans.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The 6 Most Insane Crash Diets of All Time,” Cracked.com, 01/07/08
Source: “San Francisco Call, Volume 79, Number 148, 26 April 1896,” UCR.edu
Source: “Menticulture; or, The A-B-C of true living,” Archive.org
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