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Kellogg And The Vegetarian Battle Creek Sanitarium


Who would expect hospital food to actually be vegetarian -- or festive? On January 1, 1930, the cooks at the Battle Creek Sanitarium of the Michigan town of that name whipped up a holiday bill of fare that was meat-free. Battle Creek Sanitarium was not a typical health institute, but a posh resort and holistic health spa as well as hospital. Famous surgeon John Harvey Kellogg. M.D., who had been the young star of the Seventh Day Adventist’s church health mission, was the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

   Kellogg, for several decades spanning the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, was a leading advocate of the vegetarian diet. For example, during an era when a meat-laden breakfast was typical, physician Kellogg perfected ready-to-eat cereal, perhaps from a recipe for cereal that needed to be soaked over-night, a recipe created by James Caleb Jackson, M.D. of the Dansville (New York) Sanitarium.

   The Battle Creek Sanitarium superintendent and his wife Ella Kellogg invented food products to help patients stay well once they returned to their homes, and ‘The San’ employed cooks and dieticians to concoct other prepared foods for a mail order business. One of the nutrition experts who worked for Kellogg was Lenna Cooper, who was later a founder of the American Dietetic Association.

   The food products sold by Kellogg included nut-based roasts and cutlets. Later the doctor’s brother, Will Kellogg, exploited the commercial potential of the foods and built the business that is today a household word (and that was swallowed up by a giant corporation in recent years).

   The guests of the Battle Creek San were people from all walks of life, including those at the top of society’s hierarchy. Among the guests of Kellogg’s opulent establishment were captains of industry such as C.W. Barron, Henry Ford, S. Kresge, and Harvey Firestone, and celebrated actors like Johnny Weismuller.


   Few people today know that Dr. Kellogg was an influential advocate of vegetarianism. His enthusiasm for fruits, vegetables, and nuts helped Americans realize these are healthful and tasty foods. Kellogg, a distinguished surgeon, taught the public through lectures and his popular magazine Good Health. His bold efforts against the meat industry and their ‘Eat More Meat’ campaign also fueled the vegetarian movement.

   For all his good works of helping patients and the public to eat more fruits and vegetables, Kellogg may have been a eugenicist; what this meant to him, as this was prior to the horror of World War II, we have not researched. We have found that vegetarian history, like all of American history, is the story of people and their ideas and actions; some of the people may have been near saint-like, and others may have had less-than-beneficent intent for their fellow human beings.

   It has been said that thousands of people were successfully treated at the Battle Creek San, probably most by Kellogg, whose work in the new fields of vegetarian nutrition and no-meat cuisine still resonate today, as others who followed after him studied his books or used his recipes. For example, the vegetarian advocates of the late 1960s and early 1970s had some American resources and also relied upon literature borrowed from England, where the vegetarian movement seems to have been more organized. American vegetarian activists found facts of vegetarian nutrition from Kellogg’s books, as well as from those of other food and health writers. Nutrition information was important at a time when most people still believed that without meat in the diet a person would become weak or sick.

   Kellogg seems to spared no expense or effort in entertaining, educating, and feeding guests of his establishment. Photos of celebrations at Battle Creek show gentlemen and ladies dressed in fine clothes and seated for dinner in luxurious surroundings. The menu offered to ‘San’ guests for New Year’s Day 1930 included:  Protose Loaf--Brown Gravy, Cheese Croquettes, Currant Jelly, Mushroom and Potato Pie, and Browned Eggplant. 

Michael and Karen Iacobbo are the authors of ‘Vegetarians and Vegans in America Today’ (Praeger 2004) and ‘Vegetarian America: A History’ (Praeger 2006).

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