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What Keeps Us Alive

Source: A Handbook Of Health

The Energy in Food and Fuel. The first question that arises in our
mind on looking at an engine or machine of any sort is, What makes it
go? If we can succeed in getting an answer to the question, What makes
the human automobile go? we shall have the key to half its secrets at
once. It is fuel, of course; but what kind of fuel? How does the body
take it in, how does it burn it, and how does it use the energy or power
stored up in it to run the body-engine?

Man is a bread-and-butter-motor. The fuel of the automobile is gasoline,
and the fuel of the man-motor we call food. The two kinds of fuel do not
taste or smell much alike; but they are alike in that they both have
what we call energy, or power, stored up in them, and will, when set
fire to, burn, or explode, and give off this power in the shape of heat,
or explosions, which will do work.

Food and Fuel are the Result of Life. Fuels and foods are also alike
in another respect; and that is, that, no matter how much they may
differ in appearance and form, they are practically all the result of
life. This is clear enough as regards our foods, which are usually the
seeds, fruits, and leaves of plants, and the flesh of animals. It is
also true of the cord-wood and logs that we burn in our stoves and
fireplaces. But what of coal and gasoline? They are minerals, and they
come, as we know, out of the depths of the earth. Yet they too are the
product of life; for the layers of coal, which lie sixty, eighty, one
hundred and fifty feet below the surface of the earth, are the
fossilized remains of great forests and jungles, which were buried
millions of years ago, and whose leaves and branches and trunks have
been pressed and baked into coal. Gasoline comes from coal oil, or
petroleum, and is simply the juice which was squeezed out of these
layers of trees and ferns while they were being crushed and pressed into

How the Sun is Turned into Energy by Plants and Animals. Where did the
flowers and fruits and leaves that we now see, and the trees and ferns
that grew millions of years ago, get this power, part of which made them
grow and part of which was stored away in their leaves and branches and
seeds? From the one place that is the source of all the force and energy
and power in this world, the sun.

That is why plants will, as you know, flourish and grow strong and green
only in the sunlight, and why they wilt and turn pale in the dark. When
the plant grows, it is simply sucking up through the green stuff
(chlorophyll) in its leaves the heat and light of the sun and turning
it to its own uses. Then this sunlight, which has been absorbed by
plants and built up into their leaves, branches, and fruits, and stored
away in them as energy or power, is eaten by animals; and they in turn
use it to grow and move about with.

Plants can use this sun-power only to grow with and to carry out a few
very limited movements, such as turning to face the sun, reaching over
toward the light, and so on. But animals, taking this power at
second-hand from plants by eating their leaves or fruits, can use it not
merely to grow with, but also to run, to fight, to climb, to cry out,
and to carry out all those movements and processes which we call life.

Plants, on the other hand, are quite independent of animals; for they
can take up, or drink, this sun-power directly, with the addition of
water from the soil sucked up through their roots, and certain salts[1]
melted in it. Plants can live, as we say, upon non-living foods. But
animals must take their supply of sun-power at second-hand by eating the
leaves and the fruits and the seeds of plants; or at third-hand by
eating other animals.

All living things, including ourselves, are simply bundles of sunlight,
done up in the form of cabbages, cows, and kings; and so it is quite
right to say that a healthy, happy child has a sunny disposition.

Plants and Animals Differ in their Way of Taking Food. As plants take
in their sun-food and their air directly through their leaves, and their
drink of salty water through their roots, they need no special opening
for the purpose of eating and drinking, like a mouth; or place for
storing food, like a stomach. They have mouths and stomachs all over
them, in the form of tiny pores on their leaves, and hair-like tubes
sticking out from their roots. They can eat with every inch of their
growing surface.

But animals, that have to take their sun-food or nourishment at
second-hand, in the form of solid pieces of seeds, fruits, or leaves of
plants, and must take their drink in gulps, instead of soaking it up all
over their surface, must have some sort of intake opening, or mouth,
somewhere on the surface; and some sort of pouch, or stomach, inside the
body, in which their food can be stored and digested, or melted down. By
this means they also get rid of the necessity of staying rooted in one
place, to suck up moisture and food from the soil. One of the chief and
most striking differences between plants and animals is that animals
have mouths and stomachs, while plants have not.

Next: The Digestive System

Previous: Running The Human Automobile

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