When Sylvester Graham, a frail and disgruntled early nineteenth-century Connecticut cleric, went searching for the root of all evil, he came up with a long list of possibilities. Topping the list was the American diet. Embracing his new calling as a nutritional moralist, Graham traveled the country inveighing against red meat, fats, alcohol, salt, sweets, condiments, tobacco, and white bread. Graham alleged that these substances were not merely unhealthful, but downright immoral. Among their ill effects, he contended, were sexual excesses, family conflict, disease, and insanity.
Graham's recommendations were a mixture of asceticism and practicality. He advocated tooth brushing, frequent bathing, looser clothing, exercise, a vegetarian diet, clean air and pure drinking water, laughter as a digestive aid, and temperance in everything - all radical ideas in his day.
Fortunately, his zealotry contained several kernels of sound, albeit intuitive, advice. Graham's 'Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making,' written in 1837, made a persuasive case for what is now known as a high-fiber diet. And his assertion that whole-grain dark bread was preferable to bread made from refined white flour was later borne out by the twentieth-century discovery of vitamins.
Even so, dissenters and even rioters often dogged Graham's lecture tours. His reformist arguments attracted considerable ridicule and violent protests - especially from professional bakers and butchers.
Graham's bran crusade influenced many - including such prominent individuals as Horace Greeley and Mother Ellen Harmon White, spiritual leader of the new (and growing) Seventh-Day Adventist church - and sparked sweeping changes in America's eating habits. In a time when many started the day with heaping platters of meat and potatoes, he ate a daily ration of dry, crumbled whole wheat biscuits: the original Graham crackers.
Ironically, all-around health 'expert' Graham never attained the vigor he promised others. He took his last righteous meal in the fall of 1851 and died at the early age of 57 - but the cracker that bears his name lives on around the world.