This book review is reprinted from The Homoeopath with permission from Nick Churchill of The Society of Homoeopaths.
Fundamental Food and
by René Smet
Turnhout, Belgium, 1997
Hardback, 490 pp
Reviewed by David Sault
Do Belgian and Dutch homeopaths sleep at night? Judging by the number of books emerging from that part of Europe I'd be surprised if they had the time. Following on from the massive volumes by Scholten and Vermeulen is a new materia medica by René Smet. Now you might think at this point, 'Why do we need yet another materia medica, surely this ground has been already covered by the recent ones such as Vermeulen, after all, you risk a slipped disk just to pick it up', and you would echo my own thoughts, but read on...
The materia medica consists solely of symptoms which relate to food and drink and it is an impressive work. It is comprehensive in scope, covering old, new, large and small remedies (750 in all). It seems well researched and lists 36 reference sources ranging from the classic texts of Allen, Hahnemann and Kent right through to the new work by Vithoulkas and Scholten and including the vast repertory works of Roger van Zandvoort (Complete Repertory) and Frederick Schroyens (Synthesis) and all the sources are listed as superscripts in the text. Smet claims to have found many new rubrics and to have made a great many corrections and additions to existing rubrics based on his research. The examples he gives do indicate a thoroughness of approach.
However, where the book shines is in the presentation of the material. Pick up any popular materia medica and open it to a remedy and you are faced with paragraph on paragraph of text describing each aspect of symptomatology. Try looking something up whilst a patient is sitting in front of you and you quickly realise how time consuming and inconvenient this structure is to work with. It's really only good for background analysis work. Because of the way he has structured the material, Smet has produced a materia medica which can be used for quick reference as well as background analysis.
What Smet has done under each remedy is to collect together all the symptoms relating to food and drink and list the material in a repertory format. He has separate sections for Desires, Aversions, Aggravations, Ameliorations, Ailments from, which he says are to cover General symptomatology. He has then listed symptoms from all repertory sections from Mind through to Skin following the Hahnemannian/Kentian hierarchy. This, he says is to show the effect of different foods and drinks on different organs of the body for a particular remedy. I'm not sure how effective this is; in looking up several remedies, what it demonstrates to me is that several organs and physiological systems are affected, even in smaller remedy pictures. Finally, he has listed the sections Appetite and Thirst in order to allow fast access to acute symptomatology. This is a welcome addition.
In each section, symptoms are listed on a separate line using black type and italics to indicate the gradation with which each one occurs in that remedy. This is followed by a short list of the other main remedies which have this symptom and these alternative remedies are listed in order of gradation. This does make differential diagnosis quicker and easier.
If I had any criticisms of the book it would relate to the small repertory section at the front. This appears to have been tagged on as an afterthought. It consists of two small sections; one a list of new rubrics and a second list of additions and alterations to existing rubrics. I think he should have gone further here. If his research was as thorough as he claims then he should have simply compiled a new Food and Drinks repertory section. As it is, he has done the opposite to what he has achieved in the materia medica in that this has greatly slowed down the process of accessing the information. In order to look up a single food reference for a patient you would have to go to three different sources; your normal repertory, followed by both sections of this new repertory. Do this for half of your patients and you've added an hour to your working week just to access one small detail. Life is too short for this kind of unnecessary travelling.
The text is sprinkled with typographical characters which mean different things, but one is worth mentioning. He has used the mathematical 'less than' sign (<) to mark a symptom as one of his new additions. Unfortunately this sign is commonly used in the UK to indicate the modality 'agg. by' or 'worse from'. So a rubric listed in Smet's book as 'STOMACH < eructations after rich food' does not mean the stomach is worse from eructations after rich food but simply that STOMACH, eructations after rich food is a new additional symptom for this remedy. There will be some confusion here for readers who don't bother to read book introductions. 'AMEL < oranges' will make no sense at all.
In his introduction, Smet stresses the amount and thoroughness of his research and his reasoning for presenting the material in the manner he has used. My feelings are that he has successfully achieved what he set out to do. This is a rather expensive book at £40 but it is a mountain of work to produce a volume like this and I would congratulate him for having had the enthusiasm and perseverance to do so. If you want a readable materia medica to curl up in bed with then this is not the one for you, but personally, having had a sudden run of I.B.S. cases recently, involving many food symptoms and sensitivities, I have found Smet's book efficient for accessing both confirmatory symptoms and differential diagnosis.