Graham Crackers are a sweet treat we’ve got to thank for s’mores, tasty baked goods and always being there when we need a pick me up. But do you know where they come from and why? Graham Crackers were born in the 19th Century, inspired by Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister who was a part of the temperance movement – a group who was against the consumption of alcohol. But it didn’t just stop at alcohol.
Graham also had some strong feelings towards sex and food – believing that God intended people to live with minimal pleasure in their lives. He also believed his way of living was the key to staying healthy.
An early pioneer for healthy eating?
Graham had strong views on what should constitute a healthy diet. He would run several health retreats during the 1830s where meat and sugar were out, and a bland diet was in. Graham’s movement is credited with co-founding the American Vegetarian Society, a movement that would ultimately inspire veganism. According to Graham, many things were considered stimulating, including alcohol, tobacco, sugar, refined flour, spices, seasoning, and of course, caffeine.
But what was worse than all of those things, according to Graham, was overeating. In one particular lecture, he said, “a drunkard sometimes reaches old age; a glutton never.” But why did he take this stance on food? Graham believed that foods that were considered ‘overstimulating’ led to impure thoughts and behaviors – something he described as ‘self-pollution.’ He would often lecture young men, and in one lecture, ‘A Lecture to Young Men on Chastity’, said that the way to stop their minds from thinking impure thoughts was to avoid “undue excitement of the brain and stomach and intestines.”
Followers of the movement were dubbed Grahamites, of which there were many.
Where do corn flakes come into the picture?
Graham’s views influenced a lot of people, one of which being Harvey Kellogg (born in 1852), inventor of corn flakes. Kellogg was another believer that foods that were flavored fuelled sexual impulses, therefore a diet of bland foods was in order.
Graham’s diet consisted of bread made from either coarsely ground rye or wheat. This was a bland alternative compared to the refined white flour typically used to make bread. This type of flour was also used to make Graham crackers, alongside muffins and other foods. Kellogg was known to eat the crackers alongside apples for breakfast. Experiments at cereal came from soaking the crackers overnight in milk. Back then, corn flakes were made without sugar, something that soon changed as people caught on to the wonders of cereal.
Falling out of favor for flavor
By the time Kellogg was born, people were already losing interest in Graham’s nutritional ways. At Oberlin College in Ohio, a Grahamite was brought in to introduce a strict meal plan for the school, a move that was unpopular with the students, who protested against the regime after a professor was fired for bringing in a pepper shaker.
The circumstances of Graham’s death served as another reason for people to move away from Grahamism. Graham was anemic and was prescribed opium enemas by his doctor – which ultimately would’ve resulted in his death. As he attempted to combat the effects of anemia, he started to consume red meat and alcohol, again on doctor’s orders. Those that had followed him admonished him for going against his own beliefs.
While Grahamites became rarer towards the end of the 19th Century, many of the principles that Graham believed informed the basis for modern vegetarians, and more recently, vegans.
The Graham Crackers we know and love today
So where did the sweet Graham Crackers we know and love today come from? Eventually, the original Graham cracker was molded into a much tastier treat by the National Biscuit Company, known today as Nabisco, based in New Jersey. They started manufacturing the crackers back in the 1880s, long after Graham had passed. The irony, of course, is that they were improved using refined flour and sugar – two of the things that Graham was against. The addition of marshmallows and chocolate to create s’mores would have been the final twist of the knife for Graham – making them a truly indulgent and tasty treat.
Who knew that the seemingly ordinary Graham Cracker had such a fascinating and peculiar history?