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Breakfast is often lauded as “the most important meal of the day.”What is less commonly mentioned is the origin of this ode to breakfast: a 1944 marketing campaign launched by General Foods, the manufacturer of Grape Nuts, to sell more cereal.
During the campaign, which marketers named “Eat a Good Breakfast—Do a Better Job,” grocery stores handed out pamphlets that promoted the importance of breakfast while radio advertisements announced that “Nutrition experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”Ads like these were key to the rise of cereal, a product launched by men like John Harvey Kellogg, a deeply religious doctor who believed that cereal would both improve Americans’ health and keep them from masturbating and desiring sex.
Before the invention of cereal, breakfast was not as standard or routine as it is now.
"The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day," food historian Caroline Yeldham has said.
Kellogg termed his lifestyle—more exercise, more baths, and simpler, blander foods—”biologic living,” and he gave lectures and wrote long tracts to promote it.
He described the modern diet as unnatural and too diverse.
Critics called granula “wheat rocks.”But people wanted them.
"The first year that the product was available saw more than 50 tons manufactured and sold in spite of primitive production facilities,” a Kellogg biographer wrote of his corn flakes.
"How many mothers, while teaching their children the principles of virtue in the nursery,” he wrote, “unwittingly stimulate their passions at the dinner table until vice becomes a physical necessity!
But once breakfast became an American institution, the meal grew increasingly like dinner. This mania extended to breakfast, and dishes like beefsteaks and roasted chickens joined staples like cornbread, flapjacks, and butter on American breakfast tables. Americans complained chronically of indigestion, which early nutritionists and reformers named dyspepsia. Before cereal represented an over-sugared, overprocessed relationship with food, Americans viewed cereal as a health food.
As the historian Abigail Carroll has explained, “Magazines and newspapers [just overflowed] with rhetoric about this dyspeptic condition and what to do about it.” It was the 1800s equivalent of today’s conversations about obesity. Its origins lie in sanitariums run in the mid- to late 1800s.
“To eat biologically,” he wrote, “is simply to eat scientifically, to eat normally.” Like a paleo devotee, he promised a return to man’s “natural” diet. Kellogg believed that eating biologically would solve much more than dyspepsia and indigestion. Graham with his graham cracker, Kellogg believed Americans’ meat-centric diets led them to carnal sins. and dainty tidbits in endless variety,” wrote Kellogg, a vegetarian, “irritate [the] nerves and …
react upon the sexual organs.”In his mind, masturbation was a shameful act linked to bad health, and over-stimulating diets, diseases, and sexual acts formed an insidious cycle.