In 1905 Truby King published a booklet called The Feeding of Plants and Animals which put forward the fairly uncontroversial idea that plants and animals given care and good food would grow up healthy. Of course there is quite a lot of merit in this idea for humans too, but King took it about as far as it could go. The idea that poor nutrition in the formative years can lead to mental illness seems a bit of a stretch. Without putting down the intellectual life of cows (the Seacliff cows thrived under Dr. King) I feel that the average human mind is a touch more complicated the the average bovine.
Dr. Truby King, Alexander Turnbull Library
On the 9th of August, 1906 Dr. King gave a lecture in Wellington on The Rearing of Plants and Animals. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the lecture began with the statement that proper, rational feeding was the way to make plants and animals flourish. Reference was made to a study on the relationship between education and the nervous system of children by Dr. Francis Warner. This extraordinary study began by looking at the feeding of “sensitive” plants. When plants were overfed they became sluggish, and when they were underfed they became,
supersensitive and irritable, and responded in a feeble, weak way to every change in its environment. The plant became debilitated and suffered from a condition analogous to hysteria or epilepsy…. The pale, anaemic girl, who leads an indoor sedentary life, is careless about her food, takes little exercise and much tea, suffers from similar symptoms to the sensitive underfed plant, from the same cause.
Women who took too much tea must have produced the 19th century equivalent of a crack baby. I fear that Dr. Warner must have been hanging out with his plants too long if he thought they were suffering from hysteria.
Dr. King gave extensive examples of how frightfully well everything and everyone he had fed properly had thrived amd went on to explain that,
insanity was essentially a disease of imperfect nutrition. As long as the brain was well and properly nourished insanity did not occur.
Interesting. Anything else, Dr. King?
The little ones should be taught at school that the first and most important thing in life was fresh air.
Good nutrition, fresh air and some exercise would stop the creation of more and more “unfit” people clogging up the goals and asylums.
Dr. King is in the papers quite a lot in August of 1906 and after awhile it becomes pretty clear what King thinks the biggest threat to a baby’s health really is: its mother.