An Unlikely Origin
Would you believe that something as simple as Graham Flour points to a figure in history that exerts influence even today? Sylvester Graham (1794-1851), a Connecticut-born Presbyterian minister, preached that diet exerts a direct influence on morality. 1 Graham flour remains the most memorable part of Sylvester Graham’s diet.
Sylvester Graham was the 17th child of his father, himself a minister. For whatever reason, Graham preached a system of living – the Graham System – in which diet, cleanliness, and manner of life were a central part of his theology.
To Graham, meat, alcohol and sexual passion were inescapable sources of human suffering. The consumption of meat, spices, and alcohol, he claimed, stimulate sexual urges. In place of such foods, he advocated unprocessed vegetables and fruits, clean drinking water, fresh air, firm mattresses, frequent bathing and a simple lifestyle – the regimen of human happiness. ‘Bland food curbs sexual urges,’ he taught.
Graham’s diet, developed in the 1820’s, became quite popular among some segments of Society, so that his message drew followers, termed by some, the Grahamites. Although mocked by many, the Grahamites may have paved the way for today’s Vegetarians and Vegans.
Graham favored unprocessed foods. He had an aversion to the white flour popularized by the upper class. In response, he developed Graham flour. This flour was made by taking unbleached whole wheat and separating it into the endosperm (which was ground into unbleached white flour) and the bran and the germ (both ground a bit more coarsely), then recombining the fractions.
The first product produced was bread, but several years later, Sylvester Graham developed what has come to be called the Graham Cracker. Made of graham flour and honey, many of today’s brands of Graham Cracker do not really qualify according to the original definition. Some of the founders of today’s cereal giants took notice of Graham, and thus included the wheat in their breakfast products.
Graham’s Organizational Involvements
Sylvester joined the Pennsylvania Temperance Society in 1830, and in 1850, Graham played a key role in the founding of the American Vegetarian Society – the response to the 1847 Vegetarian Society of the U.K.
Much of the steam of Graham’s dietary movement was lost, when he died at the youthful age of 57. This might seem ironic, even as in more modern times, one of the strongest advocates of jogging, Jim Fixx, died at the age of 52 following his morning jog. Nevertheless, although not under the guise of religion, 2 vegetarianism is very much alive and thriving today.
1 Contrast, however, 1 Timothy 4:1, 3.
2 The Bible does not proscribe a diet that includes meat, alcohol, or the processing of foods. Nevertheless, the scriptures do encourage moderation, and it is generally recognized that these three food items should be ingested in moderation.