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 fossilised 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 coal.
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 grows 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 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.
WHERE SUN-POWER IS MADE INTO FOOD FOR US
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.
THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
How the Food Reaches the Stomach. Our body, then, has an opening, which we call the mouth, through which our food-fuel can be taken in. A straight delivery tube, called the gullet, or oesophagus, runs down from the mouth to a bag, or pouch, called the stomach, in which the food is stored until it can be used to give energy to the body, just as the gasoline is stored in the automobile tank until it can be burned.
The mouth opening is furnished with lips to open and close it and assist in picking up our food and in sucking up our drink; and, as much of our food is in solid form, and as the stomach can take care only of fluid and pulpy materials, nature has provided a mill in the mouth in the form of two arches, of semicircles, of teeth, which grind against each other and crush the food into a pulp.
THE FOOD ROUTE IN THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
In this diagram the entire alimentary canal is shown enlarged, and the small intestine greatly shortened, in order to show distinctly the course of the food in the process of digestion.
In the bottom or floor of the mouth, there has grown up a movable bundle of muscles, called the tongue, which acts as a sort of waiter, handing the food about the mouth, pushing it between the teeth, licking it out of the pouches of the cheeks to bring it back into the teeth-mill again, and finally, after it has been reduced to a pulp, gathering it up into a little ball, or bolus, and shooting it back down the throat, through the gullet, into the stomach.
The intestines: When the food has been sufficiently melted and partially digested in the stomach, it is pushed on into a long tube called the intestine, or bowel. During its passage through this part of the food tube, it is taken up into the veins, and carried to the heart. From here it is pumped all over the body to feed and nourish the millions of little cells of which the body is built. This bowel tube, or intestine, which, on account of its length, is arranged in coils, finally delivers the undigested remains of the food into a somewhat larger tube called the large intestine, in the lower and back part of the body, where its remaining moisture is sucked out of it, and its solid waste material passed out of the body through the rectum in the form of the feces.