How cereal transformed American culture
During the early 19th century, most Americans subsisted on a diet of pork, whiskey, and coffee. It was hell on the bowels, and to many Christian fundamentalists, hell on the soul, too. They believed that constipation was God’s punishment for eating meat. The diet was also blamed for fueling lust and laziness
To rid America of these vices, religious zealots spearheaded the country’s first vegetarian movement. In 1863, one member of this group, Dr. James Jackson, invented Granula, America’s first ready-to-eat, grain-based breakfast product. Better known as cereal, Jackson’s rock-hard breakfast bricks offered consumers a sin-free meat alternative that aimed to clear both conscience and bowels. While Jackson’s innovation didn’t appeal to the masses, it did catch the attention of Dr. John Kellogg. A renowned surgeon and health guru, Kellogg had famously transformed the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan into one of America’s hottest retreats. Socialites from the Rockefellers to the Roosevelts flocked to “The San” to receive Kellogg’s unorthodox treatments. But shock-therapy sessions and machine-powered enemas weren’t the only items on the agenda.
Kellogg also stressed such newfangled ideas as exercise and proper nutrition. It wasn’t long before he started serving bran biscuits similar to those of Dr. Jackson — only now with the Kellogg name on them. To avoid a lawsuit, he changed the name of the cereal by one letter, dubbing it “Granola.” By 1889, The San was selling 2 tons of granola a week, despite the fact that it was barely edible. The success inspired Dr. Kellogg and his brother, W.K., to produce more-palatable fare. After six years of experimentation, a kitchen mishap by W.K. yielded the breakfast staple known as cereal flakes.