Say the name “Kellogg,” and one might immediately think of cereal. Relatively few people realize, however, that that same cereal sprung from the early days of the health food industry.
From 1876 to his death in 1943, John Harvey Kellogg oversaw the Battle Creek Sanitarium of Battle Creek, Michigan. He ran the sanitarium like health spas of today, using holistic methods focusing on diet and exercise. As a Seventh-Day Adventist and medical doctor, John Harvey Kellogg was very concerned about his patients’ dietary health. He explored various treatments for his patients. These included a low-fat, low-protein diet with an emphasis on whole grains, fiber rich foods and nuts. Kellogg also opposed any kind of caffeinated beverage, referring to those who used coffee as “coffee drunkards.” He advocated a vegetarian diet, mostly because of high levels of poisons in meat — a sanitary argument, rather than an environmental or ethical one. In the era before refrigeration, this argument may have been particularly compelling. Kellogg’s writings on these beliefs are housed within the Archives of Michigan. (Click John Harvey Kellogg Collection to access the online catalog record for this collection.)
In 1897, John Harvey Kellogg, along with brother Will Keith, launched the Battle Creek Food Company. It specialized in healthy, wholesome foods, and some might claim that the health food industry was born in Battle Creek. The Battle Creek Food Company offered numerous items, including vegetable meat entrees, gluten flour, packaged bran, wheat germ flakes and flaked health foods. Some of the latter constituted the first of the cold cereals.
Battle Creek Food Company products proved to be popular, but not profitable. Under John Harvey’s direction, the company devoted all of its profits to charitable work. Will Keith Kellogg became increasingly frustrated and irritated at John Harvey’s refusals to capitalize on the commercial value of his idea. In 1906, Will separated from his brother to start his own company, which later became the Kellogg Company. Will became very successful with flaked cold cereals, particularly corn flakes. While Will’s corn flakes resembled the flaked grains of the Battle Creek Food Company, they also contained sugar, an ingredient deemed harmful by John Harvey.
The Kellogg Company still shows signs of John Harvey Kellogg’s influence, claiming on its website that it was founded with “a philosophy of encouraging people to improve their health.” The company continues that tradition today through its products and through the information it provides. The company attributes its success to a belief that “the entire populace, not just those on special diets, might be interested in wholesome cereal foods.” This belief stems from Will Kellogg’s approach: take the whole foods that John Harvey advocated for patients, and adapt them for an expanded population. Then add a little sugar.