One of the more diverting aspects of life in America is the intensity and passion with which Americans appear to be pursuing the holy grail of perfect health. Besides physical exercise of varying shades, millions of Americans are also engaged in eating their way to better health. From Adelle Davis and her mineral supplements and Jethro Kloss and his catnip-tea enemas,(It is reported that Kloss once saved a woman who was dying of uterine hemorrhage by prescribing doses of hot malted nut cream), the elixir for eternal health and perhaps youth is pursued unabated. The quest for super health. The health food section or store is often viewed as a staging area from which to storm the gates of earthly paradise in which one never again need to suffer from stiff necks to frazzled nerves.
There are also people who look on a healthy body not just as a means to happiness, but as an object of reverence, at once temple and deity. “George feels that he can speak for Nature,” Saul Bellow wrote of such a body worshiper in Humboldt’s Gift: Nature, instinct, heart guide him. He is biocentric. To see him rub his large muscles, his Roman Ben Hur chest and arms with olive oil is a lesson in piety towards the organism. Concluding, he takes a long swig from the bottle. Olive oil is the sun and ancient Mediterranean. Nothing is better for the bowels, the hair, the skin…He is a priest to the inside of his nose, his eyeballs, his feet.
A keen interest in the workings of the body, coupled with a profound mistrust of the medical establishment, is an old story in America. Two hundred years ago, at a time when doctors believed the best way to cope with disease was to purge the hapless victim with cruelly large doses of mercury salts and to drain rivers of blood from his veins ( ministrations from which the patient not infrequently expired), millions of Americans sought relief from their ailments by brewing up herbal remedies concocted according to the recipes of a New Hampshire healer named Samuel Thomson. Thomson argued that all disease was caused by a loss of internal heat, and when he and his disciples were unable to repair the body,s heat-producing machinery with scalding herb teas and medicated enemas, they parboiled their patients in hot baths. ( to be continued)