Sunday, March 27, 2016

Breakfast Epiphanies, Part 2: Whither Bacon?

Mmm, mush!
Last time, we took a look at the history of breakfast. We learned that breakfast had always been a fairly light affair, considered rather unimportant, as meals go, to our foreparents. We asked, if this was the case for most of human history, why do we Americans eat like lumberjacks in the morning? You know, pancakes, smothered in syrup. Eggs, potatoes, and bacon. Especially bacon.

No, not you!
It seems there was this company called Beech-Nut. Today you may know it as the premier maker of baby food. Way back when, they made all kinds of stuff. Peanut butter, chewing gum, candy, ham, ketchup, pork and beans, coffee, chewing tobaccoif it could go in a container, Beech-Nut put it there and sold it to the public. After all, they had patented the first vacuum jar, the kind with the gasket at the top, which kept food fresh longer and also made it easier to transport. One product they were especially proud of in the early 1900's was their bacon. Bacon, in a jar!

Hand-packedwith loving care!

The trouble was, people just didn't eat all that much bacon back then. It was used to add flavor to other dishes, and sometimes on its own as a side dish, but it just wasn't a regular thing. This, Beech-Nut felt, was a problem. Something had to be done.

Fortunately for them, there was a guy who had just what they needed. 

This guy.
Edward Bernays
Edward Bernays was a whiz at getting people to do things they didn't want to do. He was pretty familiar with psychology, (being the nephew of Sigmund Freud) and he had gotten famous inventing what he called "public relations." Beech-Nut hired him to create a public demand for bacon.

A now familiar technique, and one that he pioneered for manipulating public opinion, was the indirect use of "third party authorities" to plead his clients' causes. 

"If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway," he said. He used this to perfection in the cause of Beech-Nut's jarred bacon. He went to a doctor and posed the question: which is better for health, to have a light breakfast or a heartier one? The doctor (who worked for … Beech-Nut … ) said he supposed a heartier breakfast would be healthier. He asked the physician if he would be willing to write 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their opinion was the same. About 4,500 answered back, all concurring that a bigger breakfast was better for the health of the American people than a light breakfast. Which is a little like saying "more money is better than less money," but whatever. Bernays then arranged for this finding to be published in newspapers throughout the country. I'm not talking about paid advertising—I'm talking about articles that looked like legit reportage, with headlines such as "4,500 Physicians Urge Bigger Breakfast." Other articles he placed at the same time, seemingly unrelated, stated that bacon and eggs should be a central part of breakfast—a one-two punch that resulted in? a rise in the sale of bacon. 

Pretty hard to imagine a time when people had to be buffaloed into eating bacon, isn't it?

This manufactured love affair has never really stopped, but in 1955, something happened that put the brakes on it, for a little while, at least.

Let's call it the "Eisenhower Effect."

When President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower suffered his heart attack, not only was it front page news, but a real turning point in the American diet. Having a heart attack is not really at the top of anyone's "to do" list; however, today, there are many medical interventions to make it survivable, under certain conditions, and having a normal life after the fact completely do-able. However, back in the '50's, surviving a heart attack was regarded as something that took you out of the game; the only thing prescribed was bed rest, for the rest of your life. Any amount of excitement, it was felt, put the patient at risk. 

Eisenhower, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, however, was not the guy who was going to take such a prognosis lying down. He had a re-election to win in 1955, and had no time or patience for bed rest. Ike also wanted to do everything he could to prevent being thought of as an invalid. He decided to publicize the steps he was taking to recover, particularly the dietary changes he was making on the advice of his doctors. They had been ordered by the President to come up with a treatment that would both keep him on his feet and improve his health. Their solution (based on very little scientific evidence, it seems, from what I've been reading) was to create a radical new remedy: the low-fat diet. 

Happier days ...
Naturally, after rigorous adherence to this diet, the President was able to maintain a healthy weight and never suffered another heart attack, living to the ripe old age of 102!

Actually, no, that's not what happened. Eisenhower suffered seven heart attacks in total from 1955 until his death by congestive heart failure in 1969, at the age of 78. An autopsy unexpectedly revealed an adrenal pheochromocytoma, a benign adrenaline-secreting tumor that may have made the President more vulnerable to heart disease. Which is really sad to think about. It probably didn't matter at all what the poor guy ate. He could've been using the time he had left stuffing himself full of his favorites, like beef stew, corn pudding, and Mamie's Million Dollar Fudge. 
Mamie and Ike, post-heart attack, presumably.
Which brings us back to breakfast.

The low-fat diet has been, perhaps, the most persistent of weight loss fads. It sounds like logic: eat fat, BE fat! Oh, the artery-clogging, infarction-causing eggs and bacon! Grains, we are told, are the ticket. Whole grains and multi-grains, "heart healthy" grains. The problem is, too often the benefits of whole grainsfiber— is lost to the incredible amount of sugar that is added to make something this good for you taste like candy. And sugar, in the amounts we are unsuspectedly consuming it, is poison.
Unless you are the ones profiting from throwing it into the food supply, then it's the opposite of poison; it's life-sustaining mana from Heaven.

Of course I'm talking about you, McDonalds.

Join us next time for more "Breakfast Epiphanies."

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