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John Harvey Kellogg Serves Corn Flakes at the San (March 7, 1897)

Dr. KelloggToday in Odd History, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg dished up the first serving of corn flakes at the Battle Creek Sanitarium (known affectionately as the San). These were not the corn flakes that have since adorned breakfast tables around the world. Those would not make their appearance until 1906, when Dr. Kellogg's brother, Will Keith Kellogg, added sugar to the recipe and began marketing them as a breakfast food. (Dr. Kellogg so thoroughly disapproved of this development that he sued Will in a fruitless attempt to keep the Kellogg name off of mass-produced breakfast cereals.) These were an unsweetened addition to the diets of Dr. Kellogg's patients, who suffered from a variety of ailments, which Dr. Kellogg believed could be cured by a strict vegetarian diet, vigorous exercise, sexual abstinence, and regular enemas.

The San, like its director, offered up a strange mix of solid medical thinking and superstitious quackery. Dr. Kellogg was a fervent Seventh-Day Adventist (although he and the church would eventually part ways over his increasing insistence upon running all of the church's medical facilities, and over the "strange doctrines" which he had begum to teach). He embraced his religion's approach to healthy living. The SanHe took over the Sanitarium when he was 24, a newly minted doctor whose medical training had been partially financed by James and Ellen White, two of the founding members of the Adventist Church. The Whites had been running a Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan, where hydrotherapy (the practice of dunking the patient, or various parts of the patient, into cold water) was offered. They had done moderately well, but neither of them was either a physician or a business person. Dr. Kellogg was both. He renamed the Health Reform Institute, using the British term "Sanitarium" to describe its focus on modern medical treatment. Hydrotherapy remained a staple of the therapeutic menu, but he continually added new treatments, many of his own invention. And he welcomed new technologies, from radium therapy to Fletcherization (chewing food until it dissolves; he would abandon Fletcherization, though, when he decided that it destroyed wholesome fiber). He also pioneered new forms of abdominal surgery, with remarkably low mortality rates.

Dr. Kellogg was, first and foremost, a physician. He traveled the world to advance his medical knowledge, and belonged to a number of medical societies. He was ahead of his time in many respects. For instance, he wrote about the dangers of smoking years before the Surgeon General issued any warnings. And he attempted a number of innovative surgeries. When Sojourner Truth came to the San in 1883, suffering from ulcers on her legs, Dr. Kellogg reportedly grafted some of his own skin onto her body. Many of his writings about food and health also demonstrate his devotion to science. Unfortunately, they also reveal his lapses in scientific judgement. In his essay about pork, for instance, he correctly identifies the pig as a carrier of trichinosis and tape worms, and describes the microscopic appearance of these parasites in the meat. However, he also insists that the high body fat of swine is due to the toxic corruption which builds up in their tissues, until it is deposited under the skin as fat.

Such toxic corruption was an obsession with Dr. Kellogg. He firmly believed that the bowel and the stomach were the source of 90% of all illnesses, and that as toxins built up in the bowel (a condition he referred to as "autointoxication," caused by eating meat, drinking alcohol and coffee, smoking, overindulging in sex or spicy foods, or any number of other disagreeable activities), the rest of the body's systems would begin to fail. The high-fiber diet at the San was designed to clear out the bowels, as was the daily enema regimine to which the patients were subjected. He was particularly concerned about "intestinal flora," and so he fed each patient half a pint of yogurt after each enema, and administered the other half pint via another enema. If the patient's condition still failed to improve, Dr. Kellogg would simply remove a portion of the intestine. He might do upwards of 20 such procedures per day.

 

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