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What a Box of Cereal Can Teach Us

Making breakfast easy and healthy

Dr Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

What We Can Learn from a Box of Cereal

I have always found the history of food to be a fascinating way to learn about life in the past. 

The history of something as simple as cereal teaches us a lot about the past and helps put things in perspective.  The Kellogg brothers, who pretty much invented cereal, were so successful for very specific reasons.  Around 1900, there was a health awakening of sorts in the United States.  As the country was in the midst of its industrial revolution, urbanization, and modernization, there were some notable downsides.  People were exercising less, drinking more, getting less fresh air and sunshine, and eating poorly.  As people were getting sicker with heart disease, strokes, diabetes, ulcers, and intestinal infections, there was a strong desire among growing numbers of people to promote a healthier lifestyle way back in the 1900s.  The constitutional amendment to ban alcohol was passed because this movement to promote a healthier lifestyle was so powerful.  A small, but vocal subgroup of the temperance movement was equally passionate about promoting a vegetarian lifestyle.  This may sound unimaginable today that there was a fairly organized and powerful movement to pass a constitutional amendment to ban meat consumption along with an alcohol ban in the 1900s.  It is not so odd if you keep in mind that around this time, the journalist, Upton Sinclair, came out with his expose on the meat packing industry in Chicago.  His book detailed the unsanitary conditions of the meat industry and how dangerous it was to even the employees working in the meat plants. 

Dr. John Kellogg was a medical physician with a passion to teach patients about a healthy lifestyle.  He opened a large medical spa in Battlecreek Michigan where people came to get better.  At his spa, he recommended a vegetarian diet, abstinence from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and salt.  He had his guests exercise and get fresh air regularly.  He was also concerned about the gut health of patients and wrote a lot about restoring good gut bugs.  He and his younger brother, Will, experimented with various food techniques.  They were trying to make a whole grain breakfast food that was convenient and palatable.  They came up with corn flakes and bran flakes.  John Kellogg wanted the cereal to be used at the medical spa and was not a businessman interested in making money.  Will Kellogg realized that the product they had was something that could be marketed.  The rest is history.  Unfortunately, as the cereal wars erupted with other companies getting in on the market, the once whole grain, wholesome breakfast cereal soon became adulterated with sugar, additives, and refined grains in order to sell more product. 

What can we learn from a box of cereal?  First we see that health problems rise as healthy eating habits decline.  Even in the 1900s some people understood that eating healthy meant a whole grain, unprocessed, plant-based diet. We also see that over-processing makes once healthy foods bad for us. Don’t dismiss all cereal as bad for you because most are loaded with sugar, empty calories and refined grains.  Breakfast can be as simple and easy as a bowl of bran cereal with some almond milk, blueberries, and a tablespoon of chia seeds.

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