The History of the Graham cracker,
In the 1830′s a Presbyterian Minister named Sylvester Graham became an outspoken health guru, concerned that the modern industrial diet was full of unhealthy foods lacking nutrition. One of his beliefs was that refined white flour was especially unhealthy, that breads and cereal products should be made from whole grains full of fiber and nutrients. In his work A Treatise on Bread and Breadmaking he wrote,
“Thousands in civic life will, for years, and perhaps as long as they live, eat the most miserable trash that can be imagined, in the form of bread, and never seem to think that they can possibly have anything better, not even that it is an evil to eat such vile stuff as they do … I have thought, therefore, that I could hardly do society a better service, than to publish the following treatise on a subject, which, whether people are aware of it or not, is, in reality, of very great importance to the health and comfort of every one.”
He also believed in vegetarianism, believing meat to be another contributor to poor health. However, his ideas went further than physical health. As part of his religious teaching and his role in the temperance movement, Graham believed that eating meat had the same effect as consuming alcohol, causing most of society’s ills and leading to violence and a breakdown of societal morals. His warning against meat eating were especially sexual in nature, believing that meat consumption (and rich foods) reduced one’s sexual inhibitions resulting in adultery, rape, and worst of all; onanism (aka masturbation).
Thus as a solution to people’s spiritual and physical health problems, Sylvester Graham invented what he believed to be the perfect food; the Graham cracker. The Graham cracker was a simple cracker baked from whole wheat and whole grains which had the consistency and taste of a floor tile. Graham advocated a bland diet consisting of his crackers, fruits, and vegetables with no meat, limited amounts of cheese or dairy, and no spices, not even pepper.
Sylvester Graham kicked of one of the first health fad’s, and his followers became known as Grahamites. The Grahamite movement quickly grew into a large following, however Graham also had his detractors. Graham advocated only having sex no more than once a month and at best only a few times a year, a belief which was a deal breaker for many. Graham also gave public speeches denouncing the lack of chastity among woman, a position which resulted in booing and angered yells from offended woman in the crowd. Finally, there were a few incidents in which Graham was publicly attacked by disgruntled butchers. Graham’s beliefs became so popular that Oberlin College adopted the Graham diet as it’s mandatory dining plan in 1838. Oberlin College quickly dropped the dining plan when a scandal developed after a professor was fired for putting pepper on his food.
The Graham Diet continued in popularity after his death in 1851 and only began to wane in the 1860′s. The Graham cracker was mostly forgotten until in the late 19th and early 20th century independent bakers began to produce them commercially. In 1931 The National Biscuit Company took the Graham cracker recipe and added a whole lot of white flour, sugar, and cinnamon, making it less like a roof tile and more like a tasty treat. The National Biscuit Company would later be renamed Nabisco, and it’s new version of the Graham cracker is still popularly sold today. Sylvester Graham is probably rolling in his grave.