” This leads me to remark,: answered the eyeless seer, ” that you speak without due consideration of previous experience. You are, or should be, aware of other and as marked differences in food products of upper Earth, induced by climate, soil, and cultivation. The potato which, next to wheat, rice or corn, you know supplies nations of men with starchy food, originated as a wild weed in South America and Mexico, where it yet exists as a small, watery, marble-like tuber, and its nearest kindred, botanically, is still poisonous. The luscious apple reached its present excellence by slow stages from knotty, wild astringent fruit, to which it again returns when excaped from cultivation. The cucumber is a near cousin of the griping, medicinal cathartic bitter-apple, or colocynth, and occasionally partakes yet of the properties that result from that unfortunate alliance, as too often exemplified to persons who do not peel it deep enough to remove the bitter, cathartic principle that exists near the surface. Oranges, in their wild condition, are bitter, and are used principally as medicinal agents. Asparagus was once a weed, native to the salty edges of the sea, and as this weed has become a food, so it is possible for other wild weeds yet to do so. Buckwheat is a weed proper, and not a cereal, and birds have learned that the seeds of many other weeds are even preferable to wheat. The wild parsnip is a poison, and the parsnip of cultivation relapses quickly into its natural condition if allowed to escape and roam again. The root of a tapioca plant contains a volatile poison, and is deadly; but when that same root is properly prepared, it becomes a wholesome food, tapioca. The nut of the African anacardium ( cashew nut ) contains a nourishing kernal that is eaten as food by the natives, and yet a drop of the juice of the oily shell upon the skin will blister and produce terrible inflammations; only those expert in the removal of the kernal dare partake of the food. The berry of the berberis vulgaris is a pleasant acid fruit; the bough that bears it is intensely bitter. Such examples might be multiplied indefinitely, but I have cited enough to illustrate the fact that neither the difference in size and structure of the species in the mushroom forest through which we are passing, nor the conditions of these bodies, as compared with those you formerly knew, need excite your astonishment. Cultivate a potato in your former home so that the growing tuber is exposed to sunshine, and it becomes green and acrid, and strongly virulent. Cultivate the spores of the intra-earth fungi about us, on the face of the Earth, and although now all parts of the plant are edible, the species will degenerate, and may even become poisonous. They lose their flavor under such unfavorable conditions, and although some species still retain vitality enough to resist poisonous degeneration, they dwindle in size, and adapt themselves to new and unnatural conditions. They have all degenerated. Here they live on water, pure nitrogen and its modifications, grasping with their roots the carbon of disintegrated limestone, affiliating these substances, and evolving from these substances rich and delicate flavors, far superior to the flavor of earth substance foods. On the surface of the earth, after they become abnormal, they live only on dead and devitalized organic matter, having lost the power of assimilating elementary matter. They then partake of the nature of animals, breathe oxygen and exhale carbonic acid, as animals do, being the reverse of other plant existences. Here they breathe oxygen, nitrogen and the vapor of water; but exhale some of the carbon in combination with hydrogen, thus evolving these delicate ethereal essences instead of the poisonous gas, carbonic acid. Their substance is here made up of all the elements necessary for the support of animal life; nitrogen to make up muscle, carbon and hydrogen for fat, lime and bone. The fungoid forest could feed a multitude. It is probable that in the time to come when man deserts the bleak earth surface, as he will someday be forced to do, as has been the case with frozen planets that are not now inhabited on the frozen crust; nations will march through these spaces on their way from the dreary outside earth to the delights of the salubrious inner sphere. Here then, when that day of necessity appears, as it surely will come under inflexible climatic changes that will control the destiny of outer earth life, these constantly increasing stores adapted to nourish humanity, will be found accumulated and ready for food. You have already eaten of them, for the variety of food which I supplied you has been selected from different portions of these nourishing products which, flavored and salted, ready for use as food, stand intermediate between animal and vegetable, supplying the place of both.”
My instructor placed both hands upon my shoulders, and in silence I stood gazing intently into his face. Then, in a smooth, captivating, entrancing manner, he continued:
” Can you not see that food is not matter? The material part of bread is carbon, water, gas and earth; the material part of fat is charcoal and gas; the material part of flesh is water and gas, the material part of fruits is mostly water with a little charcoal and gas. The material constituents of all foods are plentiful, they abound everywhere, and yet amid the unlimited, unorganized materials that go to form foods man would starve.
Give a healthy man a diet of charcoal, water, lime salts, and air; say to him ? Bread contains no other substance, here is bread, the material food of man, live on this food,? and yet the man, if he eat of these, will die with his stomach distended. So with all other foods; give man the unorganized material constituents of food in unlimited amounts, and starvation results. No! Matter is not food, but a carrier of food.”
” What is food? ”
” Sunshine. The grain of wheat is a food by virtue of the sunshine fixed within it. The flesh of animals, the food of living creatures, are simply carriers of sunshine energy. Break out the sunshine and you destroy the food, although the material remains. The growing plant locks the sunshine in its cells, and the living animal takes it out again. Hence it is that after the sunshine of any food is liberated during the metamorphosis of the tissues of an animal although the material part of the food remains, it is no longer a food, but becomes a poison, and then, if it is not properly eliminated from the animal, it will destroy the life of the animal The material then becomes injurious, but it is still material.
” The farmer plants a seed in the soil, the sunshine sprouts it, nourishes the growing plant, and during the season locks itself to and within its tissues, binding the otherwise dead materials of that tissue together into an organized structure. Animals eat these structures, break them from higher to lower compounds, and in doing so live on the stored up sunshine and then excrete the worthless material side of the food. The farmer spreads these excluded substances over the earth again to once more take up the sunshine in the growing plant organization, but not until it does once more lock in its cells the energy of sunshine can it be a food for that animal.”
” Is manure a food?” he abruptly asked.
” Is not manure matter?”
” May it not become food again, as a part of another plant, when another season passes?”
” In what else than energy ( sunshine ) does it differ from food?”
” Water is a necessity,” I said.
” And locked in each molecule of water there is a mine of sunshine. Liberate suddenly the sun energy from the gases of the ocean held in subjection thereby, and the Earth would disappear in an explosion that would reverberate throught the universe. The water that you truly claim to be necessary to the life of man, is itself water by the grace of this same sun, for without its heat water would be ice, dry as dust. ?Tis the sun that gives life and motion to creatures animate and substances inanimate; he who doubts distrusts his Creator. Food and drink are only carriers of bits of assimilable sunshine. When the fire worshippers kneeled to their god, the sun, they worshipped the great food reservoir of man. When they drew the quivering entrails from the body of a sacrificed victim they gave back to their God a spark of sunshine- it was due sooner or later. They builded well in recognizing the source of all life, and yet they acted badly, for their God asked no premature sacrifice, the inevitable must soon occur, and as all organic life comes to the Sun-God, so back to that the sun-spark must fly.”
” But they are heathen; there is a God beyond their narrow conception of God.”
” As there is also a God in the Beyond, past your idea of God. Perhaps to beings of higher mentalities, we may be heathen; but even if this is so, duty demands that we revere God within our intellectual sphere. Let us not digress further; the subject now is food, not the Supreme Creator, and I say to you the food of man and the organic life of man is sunshine.”
He ceased, and I reflected upon his words. All he had said seemed so consistent that I could not deny its plausability, and yet it still appeared altogether unlikely as viewed in the light of my previous earth knowledge. I did not quite comprehend all the semi-scientific expressions, but was at least certain that I could neither disprove nor verify his propositions. My thoughts wandered aimlessly, and I found myself questioning whether man could be prevailied upon to live contentedly in situations such as I was now passing through. In company with my learned and philosophical but fantastically created monitor, I moved on.