All of us have done. We’ve run down the stairs in our pyjamas, headed straight for the kitchen and once there, it’s cereal time. Out comes the bowl, the milk and the prize possession, Kellogg Cornflakes. What may be a simple morning ritual for us was at one time a serious health remedy for Dr. John Kellogg, the inventor of Kellogg Cornflakes.
For Dr. Kellogg a healthy diet led to a healthy lifestyle and in line with this way of thinking, Kellogg Cornflakes and Granola were invented to help curb what Dr. Kellogg saw as an unhealthy habit of masturbation in America’s youth. Yes that’s right, one of our favorite cereals was invented as masturbation repellent.
So why was masturbation such a hot topic for the cereal king?
Dr. Kellogg was born into a time when the Western World was concerning itself with a scandalous evil. People were masturbating. Of course religions such as Judaism and Christianity had been damning such a practice since the word go but in the 19th century groups in both the US and Great Britain became staunch advocates against masturbation. In Great Britain, the prudishness of the Victorian Era saw mass movements rise up against masturbation. Similarly in the USA, the ‘Great Religious Awakening’ of the 19th century whipped people into a frenzy about the evils of masturbation.
Soon large volumes of books would be written against masturbation. Who of us hasn’t read such classics as the anonymously authored Ononia: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences. What about Samuel Tissot’s Treatise on the Diseases Produced by Onanism [masturbation]? Such works laid the foundation stones for medicalizing “the solitary vice” (masturbation to 21st century readers). In the 19th century masturbation moved from a a moral failing, to something equally as serious. It was seen as a mental and physical ailment that needed to be treated and cured.
A Cereal is Born
Into our story comes a young Doctor from Michigan in the United States named, John Harvey Kellogg. Known to his friends as an ardent anti-masturbator, Dr. Kellogg saw masturbation as detrimental to physical, spiritual and emotional well-being. In fact Kellogg was also ardently against sex. He abstained from sex to the point where he never consummated his marriage. In line with his believes Kellogg and his wife slept in separate rooms and adopted all of their children. Dr. Kellogg was sincere in his beliefs.
If the good Doctor didn’t view sex favourably, he was downright repulsed by masturbation. In one of his many works on the subject Dr. Kellogg wrote
“If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable.”
Masturbation was a serious medical issue for our John. In Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life, he listed thirty nine, yes thirty-nine, different ailments of a person who engaged in masturbation. The ailments ranged from bad posture and stiff joints to more serious issues such as mood swings or ‘defective development’.
How could humanity be saved from the evils of masturbation?
Diet is the Answer
Kellogg’s solution was simple. A healthy diet would cure all of the ills resultant from masturbation. Meat or flavourful foods where seen to increase sexual desire. What was needed to save people from masturbation were plainer foods, like cereals or nuts. Whilst working in Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, Dr. Kellogg came up with a number of different healthy meals. Two became popular and the third thankfully didn’t.
Early on in his career in Michigan, the Doctor created a treat for his patients that consisted of oatmeal and corn meal. Oatmeal and corn meal was baked together into biscuits and then ground into smaller pieces. The name of this delicious treat? Granula but we may know it better as Granola. Kellogg was forced to change the name from Granula to Granola after a lawsuit was threatened by James Caleb Jackson, another dietary innovator who had created a similar product. Granola was the first invention for Kellogg in the fight against masturbation.
Later on Kellogg hit the cereal jackpot when he created a flaked grain breakfast cereals named cornflakes. They were ready to eat and were the perfect masturbation repellent. Along with his brother, William, Kellogg created, marketed and sold cornflakes to the wider public. Unfortunately William didn’t share his brothers zeal for anti-masturbation cereals. Concerned that the public wouldn’t buy bland cornflakes, William pleaded with John to add sugar to the cereal. John wouldn’t hear of it and the brothers soon fell out. In the end William began to sell his own sugared cornflakes and thus the Kellogg Company as we know it was born. Cornflakes with sugar rather than bland cornflakes became a hit among masturbators and non-masturbators the world over.
Not all of John Kellogg’s inventions proved successful. One of his more creative ideas concerned cleaning people’s intestines. An enema machine would run water through a patients bowel. After this, a pint of yoghurt was delivered to the patient…half into the mouth and the other half into the anus. It’s a sad story that the Kellogg Company never really marketed this idea.
So there you have it. Granola and Kellogg’s Cornflakes trace their origins back to the anti-masturbation movement in the USA. What can we take from this strange lesson in history? Well perhaps obviously it shows that food is never a neutral choice. John Kellogg whilst knowledgeable about the importance of a healthy diet, likes others, often took matters to extremes. The medicalization of masturbation and the intervention of medical experts had untold consequences. Some consequences like granola were delicious, but others were more extreme. In his fight against masturbation John Kellogg advocated threading silver wire through boy’s foreskin to prevent erections and cause irritation. For girls, he supported the application of carbolic acid to the clitoris so as burn it and hence discourage masturbation. We always have to be weary of experts especially those who come bearing delicious cereals.
Masturbation being a big issue, Kellogg must have seen it as an opportunity to market itself as a healthy lifestyle brand that was against “unhealthy” practices like “spanking the monkey”. Brands do it all the time.
Very true but in this case it appears that John Kellogg may have been very sincere in his beliefs. He went so far as to avoid sex with his own wife because he considered that sinful too.
His brother on the other hand does appear to have had the eye for business in the family and successfully marketed the product as part of a healthy lifestyle. As you say, brands do it all the time!