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It Was an Issue to Get Spitting Mad Over

October 23, 2000|Rosie Mestel

Since Halloween's coming up, this column should really be devoted to healthy seasonal tips--such as giving carrot sticks to kids instead of candy and building a bunker to cower in while the kids who got the carrots express their appreciation. But this nation has seen enough strife. So I'll write about spitting instead.

My favorite page in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. (excepting, of course, the doctors' poetry page) is where the editors reprint articles from long ago. Recently they ran an October 1900 article titled "Municipal Regulation of the Spitting Habit," by one Dr. Elmer B. Borland, a Pittsburgh doctor.

Borland, it appears, was a fierce crusader against spitting, which is unsanitary as well as yucky, because it spreads diseases such as tuberculosis. Charles Dickens, he noted, was convinced that Americans lacked the instinct of cleanliness and dubbed this great country "a nation of spitters." Sadly, many of Borland's doctor colleagues agreed and argued that it would be impossible to stop people from spitting in the streets: "Women can, but men can not, change their filthy spitting habits."

But Borland was an optimist. He was convinced that most men do have the natural instinct of cleanliness and could, he insisted, "be educated in this respect up to the level of women." After five years of tireless campaigning, he was pleased to see spitting ordinances in cities like New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. But Chicago and St. Louis settled instead for polite suggestions, mostly in the form of anti-spitting signs in public streetcars. (He made no mention of Los Angeles.)

As for St. Augustine, Fla.: "Alas, St. Augustine! Poor St. Augustine!" he wrote. (It would be great if medical journals still wrote like this--all those reports about fiber and saturated fat would be so much livelier.) When Borland queried St. Augustine's health authorities for their plans on the spitting front, they fired back: "Our native people would consider such an ordinance an insult to their dignity. Can not stop a Florida cracker from spitting."

Borland railed against corrupt politicians and small-minded government officials who were getting in the way of his dream of spitting reform. If the problem wasn't cleared up, he said, the electric and steam railway cars would have to introduce first- and second-class carriages to separate spitters from non-spitters.

If that wasn't done, he warned, "private motor carriages will crowd the streets," causing horrible traffic jams. Imagine.

No Daily Bread for Her

Now that this year's Nobel prizes have been awarded, we know you're just dying to hear who won the 2000 Ig Nobel prizes (put together by a tongue-in-cheek magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research). In a lighthearted takeoff of the real Nobels, the prizes are for people whose work is, er, unusual (see http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-2000-winners.html).

Our favorite win this year was the Ig Nobel prize for literature, which was granted to an Australian woman called Jasmuheen (formerly known as Ellen Greve).

Jasmuheen is a "breatharian," and her book "Living on Light" explains that human beings don't need to eat food. They can live on light instead. She herself hasn't eaten in years.

You can learn all about breatharianism if you'll cough up $300 or more for a weekend seminar. (Can't find the $300? Well, as the founder of the breatharian movement reportedly said, "If you can't find $300, how do you expect to find God?")

Jasmuheen explains that while the ultimate goal is living on light, one can't achieve this state overnight--and some people never can, because they're so addicted and conditioned to putting food in their mouths.

Jasmuheen no longer eats, though. She does, however, have snacks from time to time--tea with honey, savory soups, chocolate, chips . . . not for the nourishment they provide. Just for the taste.

Now wait a minute. . . .

*

If you have an idea for a topic, write or e-mail Rosie Mestel at L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012, rosie.mestel@latimes.com.

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