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Tea And Bread-And-Butter

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 4. Sydney, August 3, 1889

THERE is story of a girl who kept herself alive for some time by sucking a clean pocket-handkerchief. We do not know how many grains of starch a handkerchief usually carries, nor can we say if, in this case, the laundress had mistaken it for a shirt front, and had so supplied a plentiful quantity of stiffening, but the story, true or false, furnishes a parallel very slightly extended of the method by which many women are nowadays content to keep themselves alive. A little starch for breakfast, dinner and tea, is certainly not the rule, but a little tea and bread-and-butter for all meals is the staple food of hundreds of women, and as sustenance for a healthy body, this diet is not very much better than the pocket-handkerchief. When the men are away, the wives and mothers starve themselves; whether it is to save trouble in the kitchen, or to, save time for themselves, or from sheer indifference to food, the same result ensues — “A cup of tea is all I want!” It does seem as if women in the mass are incapable of regarding good health and a sound body and mind as worth cultivating at the cost of any little trouble. Doctors know well enough that women are the most difficult of all their patients to cure; dietary rules and healthful habits, which involve some kind of watchfulness, restraint, and patience, are too irksome for the average woman to obey. Working girls would rather starve themselves and be well clad, than preserve a healthy body simply and cheaply dressed. Even nursing mothers and hard-working women are equally indifferent to all health rules; they will not make themselves eat at regular times and in sufficient quantities. For this the children suffer, and the whole household indirectly suffers too. Half-nourished bodies produce a score of trifling ailments, fatigue, strained nerves, and irritable tempers. “Laugh and grow fat” is a cheery adage, but life is sad to many, and to grow fat is a costly ambition. It is not our object to glorify gluttony and extol corpulence, but these are unquestionable facts that in any reverse of life you can laugh if you are healthy; that almost everyone can be healthy if they will, and that to be healthy it is necessary, among other things, to eat the right food and plenty of it. If the leanness of your purse cries out against meat at lunchtime (which is properly meat-time), do without those coveted feathers or that much-to-be-desired bodice. Internal health is worth external beauty a thousand times over. What is the chance of a beautifully dressed woman against she who has the even temper and good spirits of perfect health, even if you apply no other test than the relative value in the husband market? To have “a sound mind in a sound body” is the first of ambitions. Accomplishments, beauty, riches, dress, are insignificant beside health; virtue, happiness, and rational thoughts, build themselves on health, and the heights of in tellectual and moral worth are not to be scaled without it. If you lack a profession, if you have no defined ambition, set yourself to be professionally sound in body; the sound mind will follow. To eat too little is less disgusting than to eat too much, but both are equally foolish, and in large towns where it is the almost universal custom for men to be away from home during the day and to return for dinner at night, the women are habitually guilty of eating too little. Even the children are often allowed to eat a meat dinner in the evening, perhaps only an hour before they go to bed, in order to save the trouble of giving them meat and vegetables at midday, which is the right time, and the only time when such a meal should be given them. Bush women are not much more sensible in this than their urban sisters, indeed some pride themselves on the little they eat and the number of meals they miss altogether. For all these indiscretions nature invariably inflicts a penalty, and the doctors, chemists, and patent-medicine makers receive the fines. It does not pay the doctors to teach health rules to the masses and it therefore behoves outsiders to cry out to the people that they can be healthy if they will study the right methods. The unfortunate children after they are weaned, struggle under the sins of their ancestors with remarkable success, but it is an obvious fact that the race might be strengthened and improved to an indefinite extent if the mothers would consider health as capable of evolution, instead of regarding it as an accidental accompaniment of birth and permanent through life in that state of better or worse in which it was originally inherited. If husbands when they return home ask their wives what they have had to eat in their absence, ninety in every hundred replies would be — “tea and bread-and-butter”. This may tend towards spirituality and the maintenance of that “dear delicate little woman” variety of the “clinging” species prized by some men, but the world would be none the worse, for a robuster, healthier, stronger type of woman; nor should we be sorry if we could see the tea merchants transformed to market gardeners and all the milliners driven into the pro- vision trade.

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