Friday, February 20, 2009

Food History Blogging: John Harvey Kellogg

I have in mind a few new historically based topics for the blog. You've been reading Crisis of Masculinity Blogging. Here is the second--Food History Blogging. Every now and again, I'll talk about some issue of food history, usually within the United States but sometimes around the world.

I'll start with a story that some of you might be familiar with, but maybe not. That of John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of Corn Flakes and the founder of Kellogg's cereals.

Kellogg was a doctor who lived in Battle Creek, Michigan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A Seventh-Day Adventist, Kellogg ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek based upon that religion's principles. Sanitariums were common during these times as places where a generally wealthy clientele could heal from their illnesses. Kellogg believed in a vegetarian diet and abstaining from tobacco and alcohol. He worried that meat eating caused sexual stimulation and fought against both of these things. This is a common theme of 19th century food thinkers--trying to restrain the unclean urges, be they food, alcohol, or sex.

Kellogg was a zealous campaigner against masturbation, something that worried a lot of people in the late 19th century. Campaigns against "self-pollution" were common. Kellogg drew upon medical sources that claimed that "neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of onanism," as one Dr. Adam Clarke wrote. Kellogg strongly warned against masturbation in his own words, claiming of masturbation related deaths, "such a victim literally dies by his own hand,"(!!!!) among other condemnations. He felt that not only did masturbation destroy physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well. Kellogg believed that the "solitary vice" caused cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, and mental and physical illness. He worked hard to "rehabilitate" masturbating children. For self-polluting boys, he suggested,

"A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys in circumcision....The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed."

For girls, Kellogg said "in females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement."

Kellogg was a strong proponent of eating nuts, believing they could save the world from hunger. He also believed in enemas. After the enema, they would be forced to undergo a second enema, this time with yogurt, while also eating yogurt at the same time, "thus planting the protective germs where they are most needed may render most effective service." He believed that the key to health and proper Victorian moderation was a well-balanced vegetarian diet favoring low-protein, laxative, and high fiber foods. Thus he and his brother invented corn flakes. Modern whole grain cereals were unknown to Americans before Corn Flakes came out in 1897. The rich ate meat and eggs for breakfast while the poor usually had some sort of porridge or other boiled grains.

Kellogg was a real true believer. His brother Will knew that what would really make cereals sell was to add sugar to them. John refused. In 1906, the two brothers split over this, Will to become rich and John to die in obscurity.