Weird Wednesdays: Beating your Wheaties

A fervent follow of Graham’s philosophy was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a dietician, nutritionist and Seventh-Day Adventist. Born in Michigan in 1852, little Johnny was raised on the philosophy that if cleanliness was next to godliness, then a clean diet (and colon) was the next-best thing. (Epicantus/Flickr Creative Commons)

Are you afflicted by restlessness? Aggression? Nausea? Epilepsy? Cancer of the womb? Hallucinations? Bed-wetting? Clearly, you’ve brought this down on yourself− these are all symptoms, and consequences, of the “solitary vice” known as masturbation. Contact your doctor and your priest− the suffering will end only if the sinning does!

Well, not really. This was the mindset of the mid-late 1800s, though. Masturbation (both male and female) was considered a reckless romp into the ravaging ruins of carnal desire, and thus was condemned. Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings, after all.

Of course, what with carnal desire being an inherent part of human instinct, instructional pamphlets and fiery sermons only did so much. Certain enterprising individuals came up with various techniques to prevent, er, “this sort of thing.” Avenues included electroshock therapy, chastity belts, special gloves, chemical inhibitors and… cornflakes?

Yes, cornflakes were advertised to actually dampen desire. Makes breakfast a lot more contemplative, doesn’t it?

The theory behind this questionable technique was that bland foods, such as plain flour biscuits, cornmeal-based edibles and other forms of tasteless mush could prevent your brain from getting all fired up with thoughts of copulation. Clearly, eating spicy, savoury, salty or overly sweet or rich foods would make you a nympho.

Food-induced abstinence was popular back in the day. The graham cracker, for example, was invented by the Reverend Sylvester Graham, in order to “require and secure a full exercise of the teeth in mastication.” Supposedly, flavorless crackers and lots of chewing would bring man back to a simpler, less sexually-active state of mind. Now we mostly use them to make s’mores, which is essentially a block of cracker and sugar. Go figure.

A fervent follow of Graham’s philosophy was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a dietician, nutritionist and Seventh-Day Adventist. Born in Michigan in 1852, little Johnny was raised on the philosophy that if cleanliness was next to godliness, then a clean diet (and colon) was the next-best thing. Adventists generally advocate for health and a sound body, and encourage abstaining from alcohol, shellfish, tobacco and caffeine.

As such, Kellogg worked with the editor-in-chief of the Adventist publication Health Reformer, which contained articles about the health benefits of granola, not drinking and sitting quietly in a room without the radio on. He eventually obtained his MD from the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York, and started performing surgery.

In 1876, Kellogg became the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. While this sounds like the prologue for “A Cure for Wellness,” instead of feeding people to eels, he treated a variety of patients, both rich and pure, using modern-day techniques such as dietetics and hydrotherapy.

Now this is where it gets weird.

Kellogg, like Graham, thought that sexual “excesses,” even within marriage, would lead to unhealthy behaviors and that they were against nature. Masturbation was the worst of the worst− not only did it include all the sinful pleasures of copulation, it didn’t actually end in reproduction. Clearly, something needed to be done.

For young boys, he recommended circumcision without anesthetic (to “clear the mind”) or, failing that, suturing the foreskin shut as to prevent erections. Ouch.

Young women didn’t escape Kellogg’s ire, either. The doctor advised rubbing carbolic acid and other irritants on the female clitoris to discourage nymphomania.

His ultimate solution to the vices of self-pleasure was, of course, through diet. Kellogg, through years of development with his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, accidentally discovered the toasted wheat flakes we know and love today.

The two had been trying to develop a type of wheat bread or biscuit (blandly-flavored, of course) for daily consumption. After a batch of cooked wheat left sitting around went stale, the duo (on a tight budget) went ahead and toasted it. The end product had a texture somewhere between dwarf bread, granite and the baguette slices they serve in a middle school lunch.

Undeterred, the pair rolled the wheat slab under a metal crusher, hoping to end up with sheets of dough. Instead, they ended up with a bunch of flakes, which, when soaked in milk, were somewhat palatable.

Dr. Kellogg filed a patent for the cereal, and his brother launched what would later on become the Kellogg Cereal company. The two later split over an argument as to whether sugar should be added to the cereal− John claimed that sugar would be unhealthy, while Will figured sales would skyrocket if the product didn’t taste like wheat-flavored cardboard.

Considering the Kellogg Company now produces childhood favorites such as Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Crispies, you can kind of see how that went down.

And in end, the Kellogg company made major strides in the food industry. It was the first company to provide nutrition facts on the box (in a time when finding weevils in a bag of flour was considered “extra protein”) and offer prizes in its cereal bags.

Dr. Kellogg, for his part, became a passionate anti-smoking advocate, performed over 20,000 surgeries, told everyone in his friend group about how vegetarianism was awesome and founded a eugenics institution. (Okay, that last one is pretty whack. This guy was a bit of a mixed bag.)

So next time you’re eating your Wheaties, kids, consider its origin. Chances are whatever you’re munching on is so saturated in corn syrup that it negates its original intent, but if your significant other complains that you’re not as exciting in bed as you used to be…. you know who to blame.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.