The Philosophical Foundations of Kellogg’s Cornflakes! By Mrs Vera West

In a nutshell, Americans were eating super-heavy meat laden breakfasts, that led to a national plague of indigestion, and probably hyper-constipation, so there was a market created for a lighter cereal breakfast, just to let things pass through a bit more gently.  But, for some, this was much more, and was the expression of a philosophy of organic health, that survives on today:

“For Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, his invention of corn flakes was part of his health movement that he called “biological living.”

The prompt for Dr. Kellogg’s health movement was a national case of digestion. “Americans wanted meat, meat, meat. And potatoes. And cake and pie,” Lowell Dyson writes of food preferences in 19th century America.” This was as true of breakfast as it was of dinner. Among the wealthy, steak and pie could be dinner or breakfast.

The results for the nation’s health were not good. Indigestion was endemic. As Abigail Carroll, author of Three Square Mealshas explained, Americans called this indigestion “dyspepsia.” Discussion of dyspepsia was like today’s obesity debates, endlessly written about in magazines and newspapers.

For a number of health reformers, the solution was to create simpler foods. The graham cracker was invented by a dietary reformer named Sylvester Graham in 1827. In 1863, James Caleb Jackson, who ran a health resort, invented the first cereal, which he called “granula.”

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg also ran a health resort, where he treated diseases and ailment with novel ideas like “hydrotherapy” (essentially baths at different temperatures). Dr. Kellogg was a vegetarian, and with the assistance of his brother William Kellogg, he created or invented foods like peanut butter and meatless meats for his patients.

Corn flakes, which he first designed in the 1890s, were his most enduring legacy.

Few people today would eat Kellogg’s corn flakes or Jackson’s granula. They had no sugar or added flavors, and they were so tough that they often cracked people’s teeth.

But in the 1900s, people desperately wanted cereal, and they bought as much cereal as Dr. Kellogg’s health facility could produce. It was an opportunity for Dr. Kellogg to spread his gospel of biologic living.

In dense books and popular lectures, John Harvey Kellogg explained the merits of bland foods like cereal. Writing of Americans’ tendency to eat “with the feeble stomach of a primate” seemingly every kind of food, including new, “artificial foods,” he concluded that "it is no wonder that the human gastric machine has broken down, and that dyspepsia, constipation, and peristaltic woes of various description have become universal in civilized lands.”

Dr. Kellogg’s “biologic living” called for more exercise, more bathing, and eating whole grains and less meat. Like with today’s paleo or organic food trends, he portrayed this as a scientific return to natural principles. “To eat biologically,” he wrote, “is simply to eat scientifically, to eat normally.”

Unlike today’s food trends, he also believed that man’s modern diets led them to carnal sins. "Highly seasoned [meats], stimulating sauces... and dainty tidbits in endless variety,” Kellogg wrote, “irritate [the] nerves and… react upon the sexual organs.” Dr. Kellogg wrote as much about the dangers of sex and masturbation as he did about healthy living. Cereal was the bridge; the dietetic remedy to keep Americans’ diets from leading them to sin.

Despite creating a product, corn flakes, that launched a food craze, Dr. Kellogg cared more about this cause than profits. In his lectures, he explained how people could make cereal at home.

“I am not after the business,” he told people. “I am after the reform."

I particularly liked the old school idea of limiting sexual sins by diet and control of the carnal desires. Oh, the good old days!




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Sunday, 21 July 2024

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