Today marks the 100th birthday of the corn flake, developed by the enterprising brother of famous vegetarian physician John Harvey Kellogg. Dr. Kellogg operated a health spa/sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, to which place the rich and puny at the turn of the century could repair to restore their health and vigor. Dr. Kellogg employed a strict vegetarian diet and a number of other interesting therapies, such as radiation and near-electrocution as remedies for obesity.
Devising a convenient ‘health’ food (grain-based flakes, in this case) for disciples of Dr. Kellogg’s regimen became the entrepreneurial hot ticket franchise of the day. From among the many entrants vying to win market share two companies became giants and remain with us today: Kellogg’s of Battle Creek and C.W. Post.
Battle Creek (aptly named) served as something of a vegetarian command and control center in the war that raged between the propenents of vegetarianism and the carnivore/omnivore camp. On the one side was Dr. Kellogg, proclaiming that foul animal products rotted in the intestines of humans and caused no end of health maladies. At the san, the good doctor treated these ailments variously: milk fasting, enemas, and even surgically removing “kinks” in the bowel that interfered with proper digestion. And let’s not forget the aforementioned radiation, which did help weight loss by inducing nausea and destroying appetite, with the small side effect that if carried a bit too far, it would kill you. On the side of the angels (at least from our world view) stood the likes of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Arctic explorer, friend of the Inuit, who espoused the health and safety of meat eating.
Although it’s fiction, if you’ve never read T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville, take a look! It’s a fabulous read and offers an hilarious glimpse into the flake mania that gripped Battle Creek at this time. The book was made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and John Cusack, both of whom I love to watch. However, I didn’t bother to see the movie version, which reports claimed was a pale and unsatisfying shadow of the richness of the book. Perhaps if you’d not read the book, the movie would suffice. Take your pick if you’re interested in a funny look at the inception of a food fad that’s now turning 100 years old.
Yes, from these lofty origins sprang the corn flake, staple of America’s breakfast table for 100 years. And just look how healthy we’ve become for it! To be fair, I don’t think Dr. Kellogg would have countenanced coating flakes with high fructose corn syrup, but who knows. He may have been all about it, since it’s not meat and really no more harmful than, say, irradiating people.
Gee, thanks, Dr. Kellogg. Oh, and Happy Birthday to the corniest flakes anyone makes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll trot downstairs and whip up a plate of sausage and eggs.