Chapter 6: The Kelloggs’ Sanitarium

Kellogg is one of the most iconic family names in U.S. culinary history, emblazoned as it is on billions of boxes of breakfast cereal that have been sold since Kellogg’s Cornflakes was first offered to a mass market in 1906. John Harvey Kellogg, along with his wife Ella and brother Will, invented the product in the 1890s for use by “inmates” at a Seventh Day Adventist health sanitarium they supervised in Battle Creek, Michigan. They taught that perfect health could be attained through lifestyle changes starting with ridding the diet of alcohol, meat and other stimulating substances.
John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg


Excerpted from Vintage Vegetarian Cuisine. The book includes this and 10 other chapters, and a selection of 250 recipes from 15 early vegetarian cookbooks. Buy the book. 

Some of their other recommendations ranged from curious to bizarre: sun baths, yoghurt enemas and the most important of all to Dr. Kellogg, avoidance of any scintilla of sexual excitement. Kellogg’s weird obsession with sex, which reflected the influence of Sylvester Graham, was in full flower in a book he published in 1881, Plain Facts for Old and Young. Masturbation, he insisted, can drive adolescents into “driveling idiocy.” Parents must be on the lookout for tell-tale evidence that their children are heading down that path, such as “love of solitude,” “mock piety” or “a stooped posture.”

He recommended striking “flesh, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate and all stimulants” from the diet because they are capable of “exciting such storms of passion as are absolutely uncontrollable.” Graham flour, oatmeal, and ripe fruit were among the “wholesome and unstimulating” foods that he said were indispensable to anyone “suffering from sexual excesses.”

Ella Kellogg

Ella Kellogg

Kellogg had no shortage of test subjects for his dietary theories. The sanitarium hosted from 500 to 700 inmates at a time. His wife Ella Eaton Kellogg was in charge of devising menus and supervising the kitchen that fed the throng. She had graduated from Alfred College near Rochester, New York, at the age of 19 in 1872. After several years of teaching school, she enrolled in Dr. Kellogg’s newly opened school of hygiene, which she had discovered on a trip to Battle Creek to visit an aunt. Quickly spotting her talents as a writer, Dr. Kellogg in 1877 made her an editor of Good Health, a magazine published by the sanitarium. They were married two years later.
Although the Kellogg brothers are usually credited with inventing corn flakes, and Will is the one who made the product a commercial success, John always made it clear that Ella also played a key role. She also helped test other products that the institution’s commercial arm, the Sanitarium Food Co., developed and marketed including Avenola, made from oats and wheat, Gofio, made from parched grains, and Granola, made with wheat, corn, and oats. Although none of those commercial products lasted long, the “granola” name took on a life of its own and is a mainstay in the breakfast-foods aisle of modern-day supermarkets. To be sure, the sweetened mixture of rolled oats, nuts and raisins that has adopted the name these days bears little resemblance to the unflavored blend of whole grains developed at the Kelloggs’ sanitarium.

Ella would later found the School of Home Economics and a home for orphans in Battle Creek, and help launch the American Dietetic Association. In an encyclopedic, 609-page book published in 1893, she compiled kitchen tips, ingredient descriptions and hundreds of recipes that she developed as superintendent of food services at the sanitarium. The book, Science in the Kitchen, was ponderously subtitled, A Scientific Treatise on Food Substances and Their Dietetic Properties, Together with a Practical Explanation of the Principles of Healthful Cookery, and a Large Number of Original, Palatable, and Wholesome Recipes.

There are no direct references to sex in Ella Kellogg’s book. But she clearly shared the view of her husband, and many other religiously-based vegetarians in the 19th century, that meat could incite urges that were best left suppressed. Consumption of meat, she declared, “has a tendency to develop the animal propensities to a greater or less degree, especially in the young, whose characters are unformed.” Meat eaters, in general, were “impatient, passionate, fiery in temper, and in other respects greatly under the dominion of their lower natures.”
That said, the book included a chapter with meat recipes, in a nod to those who could not possibly go without. But she sought to discourage partakers, with grim accounts of the hazards that awaited anyone who dared to indulge in eating animal flesh. If one must eat meat, do so sparingly, she said, though “the human race would be far healthier, better, and happier if flesh foods were wholly discarded.”

Milk, too, was potentially dangerous, since it “often serves as the vehicle for the distribution of the germs of various contagious diseases, like scarlet fever, diphtheria, and typhoid fever,” she said. That did not stop her from using cream in most of her recipes.

Vegetables were healthful, but only if properly prepared, she said. Frying “is a method not to be recommended,” especially the technique of quickly cooking food on one side and then the other in a shallow pan with a little oil, “which the French call sautéing.” According to Science in the Kitchen, “Scarcely anything could be more unwholesome than food prepared in this manner.”

Grains, on the other hand, “are pre-eminently nutritious, and when well prepared,” are “nearly perfect foods,” Kellogg said. “It is a matter of surprise that they are not more generally used; yet scarcely one family in fifty makes any use of the grains, save in the form of flour, or an occasional dish of rice or oatmeal.”

Fruit is one of the most “wholesome and pleasing” foods, though it must be chosen and prepared with care. “Ripe fruit is a most healthful article of diet when partaken of at seasonable times; but to eat it, or any other food, between meals, is a gross breach of the requirements of good digestion,” she said.

For an audience raised on meat and potatoes, Mrs. Kellogg’s diet of fruit, vegetables and grains represented a radical departure. Her bland recipes, most often consisting of plain boiled grains or vegetables, flavored with nothing but cream and perhaps lemon juice or sugar, were decidedly unexciting. But that was, in part, the point at a “sanitarium” where the patrons were called “inmates.”


They were, in any event, impressed, according to the introduction to her cookbook. “Those who have made themselves familiar with Mrs. Kellogg’s system of cookery, invariably express themselves as trebly astonished: first, at the simplicity of the methods employed; secondly, at the marvelous results both as regards palatableness, wholesomeness, and attractiveness; thirdly, that it had never occurred to them ‘to do this way before.’ ”

Two recipes from Science in the Kitchen:

Peas Cakes

Cut cold mashed peas in slices half an inch in thickness, brush lightly with cream, place on perforated tins, and brown in the oven. If the peas crumble too much to slice, form them into small cakes with a spoon or knife, and brown as directed. Serve hot with or without a tomato sauce. A celery sauce prepared as directed in the chapter on sauces, is also excellent.

Apple Sandwich

Mix half a cup of sugar with the grated yellow rind of half a lemon. Stir half a cup of cream into a quart of soft bread crumbs; prepare three pints of sliced apples, sprinkled with the sugar; fill a pudding dish with alternate layers of moistened crumbs and sliced apples, finishing with a thick layer of crumbs. Unless the apples are very juicy, add half a cup of cold water, and unless quite tart, have mixed with the water the juice of half a lemon. Cover and bake about one hour. Remove the cover toward the last, that the top may brown lightly. Serve with cream. Berries or other acid fruits may be used in place of apples, and rice or cracked wheat mush substituted for bread crumbs.

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More the 20 other recipes from Ella Kellogg’s cookbook are reprinted in Vintage Vegetarian Cuisine, which includes 250 original recipes from 15 early vegetarian cookbooks.

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