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HEALTH > DIET AND DIET REFORM > PART II > SECTION I : GENERAL > An experiment in National Diet

 

53. An experiment in National Diet

A striking experiment was carried out in Denmark in the last year of the Great War which has a moral for us in the present food crisis. The Danes as a people were, in the first instance, largely lacto-vegetarian in their diet. Then about 1870-1880 American wheat and barley from the virgin soil of the prairies began to pour in and forced the Danes to change their agricultural methods quickly. They began to raise pigs and poultry and became export­ers of eggs and butter to England. They also became big eaters of meat and eggs themselves.

The blokcade following the entry of the United States into the war created a serious situation for the Danes. Denmark had a population of 35,00,000 human beings and 50,00,000 domestic animals. Grain and fodder used to come from America. The sudden stoppage of the Ameri­can imports created an acute shortage of these articles.

Professor Mikkel Hindhede, Superintendent of the State Institute of Food Research, was appointed Food Adviser to the Danish Government to deal with the crisis. The question which he was called upon to decide was this. So far the pigs had provided ham and bacon for the English as well as the Danes. Would it be wise in this crisis to get rid of the pigs and let men eat the grain which oth­erwise the pigs would eat? Hindhede decided it would be wise and so some four-fifths of the pigs and about one- sixth of the cattle were killed. The pigs gone, the bran which was fed to them was set free and was utilized for making whole meal bread with the entire coarse bran incorporated. This was the celebrated Kilebrot which was made official for the whole country. In addition to it the Danes ate porridge, green vegetables, milk, butter and fruit. "No grain or potatoes were allowed for distillation of spirits, so there were no spirits." Half the previous quantity of beer was permitted. Only people on the farms got meat. The people in the cities, about 40 per cent of the population got very little meat. Only the rich could afford beef.

The food regulations were begun in March, 1917, and were made stringent from October 1917 to October 1918.

An amazing result followed from the enforcement of this national diet. Death rate which had been 12.5 in 1913-14 now fell to 10.4 per thousand "which is the lowest mortality figure that has been registered in any Euro­pean country at any time" (Hindhede). To express the results in another way, taking the average from 1906 to 1916 as 160, in the October to October year it was 66. "Even in men over 65 the figure fell to 76."

Before the fiat the Danes ate fine meal bread and whole meal bread. Hindhede made them eat only whole meal bread with extra bran. Its proportions were given out as 67 per cent rye, 21 per cent oats and 12 per cent bran.

"Except for the bran which added vegetable meat for those who were animally meatless or meat short," observes Hindhede, "this bread was the bread which the Danes used to eat before the invasion of American wheat," and which had been the "national bread of Den­mark for centuries."

Hindhede attributed the remarkable improvement in the national health of the Danes to (1) less meat, (2) less alcohol. "The bran largely filled the gap of the scanty or absent meat, bran having a good proportion of vegetable meat protein." He regarded his experiment as a "triumph of his previous teaching." "The reader knows," he wrote in Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift of March 1920, "how sharply I have emphasized the advantage of a lacto-vegetarian diet. I am not in principle a vegetarian but I believe I have shown that a diet containing a large amount of meat and eggs is dangerous to health."

PYARELAL

Harijan, 26-5-1946