DATES AND THE DATE PALMby@scientificamerican


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Even those whose knowledge of the customs of the Orient extends no further than a recollection of the contents of that time-honored story book, the "Arabian Nights," are doubtless aware that, since time immemorial, the date has been the chief food staple of the desert-dwellers of the East. The "handful of dates and gourd of water" form the typical meal and daily sustenance of millions of human beings both in Arabia and in North Africa, and to this meager diet ethnologists have ascribed many of the peculiar characteristics of the people who live upon it. Buckle, who finds in the constant consumption of rice among the Hindoos a reason for the inclination to the prodigious and grotesque, the depression of spirits, and the weariness of life manifest in that nation, likewise considers that the morbid temperament of the Arab is a sequence of vegetarianism. He points out that rice contains an unusual amount of starch, namely, between 83 and 85 per cent; and that dates possess precisely the same nutritious substances as rice does, with the single difference that the starch is already converted into sugar. To live, therefore, on such food is not to satisfy hunger; and hunger, like all other cravings, even if partially satisfied, exercises control over the imagination. "This biological fact," says Peschel, "was and still is the origin of the rigid fastings prescribed by religions so widely different, which are made use of by Shamans in every quarter of the world when they wish to enter into communication with invisible powers." Peschel and Buckle, however, are at variance as to the influence of the date diet as affecting a race; and the former remarks that, "while no one will deny that the nature of the food reacts upon the mental powers of man, the temperament evoked by different sorts is different;" yet "we are still far from having ascertained anything in regard to the permanent effects of daily food, especially as the human stomach has, to a great degree, the power of accommodating itself to various food substances, so that with use even narcotics lose much of their effect." The same author also adds that the date "trains up independent and warlike desert tribes, which have not the most remote mental relationship to the rice-eating Hindoos."
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