The Presbyterian Reverend Sylvester Graham, an early 19th century proponent of an extreme, aesthetic lifestyle, is largely forgotten today. During his life, however, he was amazingly popular and many of the theories he espoused are actually popular to this day, though he is rarely credited with their acceptance. He was also widely reviled and a controversial figure of derision.
Rev. Graham promoted a strict form of vegetarianism at a time when meat was a staple and considered essential to a healthy lifestyle. He held a number of extremely controversial diet and wellness ideas which he championed and was militant in defending. His followers were so dedicated that they became known as Grahamites.
Speaking before adoring crowds, Rev. Graham spoke boldly and powerfully against women wearing corsets, any type of gratuitous sexual activity and nihilism. His encouragement of a Spartan lifestyle was widely reported in the media.
In an age when bathing was rare and oral care primitive Grahamites practiced both; daily and religiously. Temperance was strictly enforced among Grahamites. Excitement was discouraged. They also did not use spices to enrich the taste of food, as these additives were considered to excite the senses and encourage sexual activity. Consuming meat, butter and white bread were forbidden. Especially white bread!
The elimination of white flour from their diet became central to the lifestyle and philosophy of Grahamites. Rev. Graham preached about the evils of white flour which was considered crucial by bakers in producing whiter loaves and more commercially appealing bread. He despised any food that contained additives and chemicals. Darker types of bread were considered a foodstuff for the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution. Graham set out to change this perception.
He created the recipe for Graham bread. It was made from un-sifted flour and contained no alum or chlorine, both present in the white bread of that time. He believed that bread should be coarse not fluffy and uniform like the loaves then being mass produced in industrial bakeries. A variant of the recipe for Graham bread lead to the creation of Graham crackers, popular to this day. Grahamites consumed massive quantities of Graham crackers to supplement their exceedingly bland diet.
Grahamism died out soon after Rev. Sylvester Graham’s death in 1857. His death in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a restaurant named Sylvester’s stands on the site of his home, marked the zenith of his movement. His influence, however, had touched such important Americans as Horace Greeley, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother William Kellogg. Their creation of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and founding of the Battle Creek Institute, was heavily linked to their belief in Grahamism.
It has been over 150 years since the death of Rev. Sylvester Graham. It is generally forgotten that he is responsible for the creation of ubiquitous Graham Crackers, still found in most home larders. And yet, many of the principle ideas which he pioneered and were forgotten after he was deceased are again au courant today.
Modern nutritionists strongly endorse limiting the consumption of meat and refined, processed foods in the diet. Dark, multi-grain breads are promoted as key elements of a healthy diet. A vegetarian or vegan type of diet is increasingly popular. Daily bathing and proper oral care are cornerstones of hygiene and personal care. All of these ideas were key, if controversial planks in the philosophy that was central the Grahamist lifestyle. Today we accept them as factual truths, supported by science and research data.