Who were Kellogg and Graham?
If you saw “The Shape of Water,” the film that won Best Picture at the Oscars this year, you may have noticed a scene in which an odd comment is made by one of the main characters during breakfast:
“Corn Flakes were invented to prevent masturbation,” he says. He explains a moment later that it “didn’t work.”
It turns out this is true. The creator of Corn Flakes was a nutritionist and Seventh Day Adventist by the name of John Harvey Kellogg who started a food company with his brother Will Keith Kellogg that would eventually become the Kellogg cereal company. It was John Harvey Kellogg’s belief that bland foods would help prevent arousal and sexual desire. Hence the corn flakes. Kellogg never consummated his marriage with his wife. They adopted children because they believed conceiving them the old-fashioned way was sinful. He believed that masturbation was especially sinful.
The Graham cracker was invented in similar fashion by a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham. Graham’s followers abstained from using spices of any kind in their food. Grahamites believed, much like Kellogg, that bland foods curbed inclinations toward sinful sexual behavior. Graham also promotes a vegan diet, believing that consuming milk and meat led to lust. He also believed masturbation was particularly sinful, and eventually led to insanity.
What do Kellogg and Graham have to do with Mormonism?
A lot, actually.
Kellogg and Graham were just as much products of their environment as they were contributors to it. They came from a long Christian tradition of protestant Christianity that extends back beyond the Pilgrims. Many protestant and reformist Christian denominations grew rapidly in America during the 1800s in what is known today as the Second and Third Great Awakenings. These Christian movements were contemporary with the formation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If we observe the teachings of the Mormon Church, we’ll see a lot of similarities between these Christian denominations.
The Word of Wisdom, when compared with the health codes of other Christian religions of the 18th and 19th Centuries, look incredibly similar. Abstaining from alcohol was common among these groups. The Word of Wisdom teaches to eat meat sparingly, much like Graham did. Kellogg and Graham focused heavily on eating whole grains and other high fiber foods. The Word of Wisdom similarly teaches that “grain is ordained for the use of man… to be the staff of life” (D&C 89:14).
The dietary practices of these religions of the Second and Third Great Awakening were inseparably linked with their views of the human body. These Christian denominations taught that our physical bodies are innately sinful and dangerous. The roots of these ideologies can be traced back to reformers of the Church of England known as Puritans. They later became known as Pilgrims when they sailed across the Atlantic to colonize New England.
Whether we like it or not, the LDS Church is steeped in the same traditions as those of people like Kellogg and Graham. All these Christian religions teach that the human physical body is innately sinful, and that all physical pleasure must therefore be stamped out. Mormons aren’t much different. These same concepts are reinforced in our Church by passages in the Book of Mormon that teach that the natural man is an enemy to God, being carnal, sensual, and devilish. As youth of the Church, we are often taught lessons about modesty and chastity in ways that reinforce the idea that our bodies cannot be trusted, that our bodies need to be covered up and denied all appetites.
Mormonism comes from—and contributes to—a long Christian tradition of waging war against ourselves in a strange process of self-shaming and self-deprecation. No one wins when we wage war against our bodies.
Better than Bland Breakfast Cereal
We don’t have to look far for counter-arguments to the kind of body-shaming we’ve inherited with our Puritan tradition. We are also taught that our bodies are gifts from God, and that our bodies are holy temples because the Holy Ghost can dwell in them. So, which is it? Are our bodies things to be hated and feared? Or are our bodies to be considered holy and sacred?
Why, if every living person on earth has a body, is talking about our bodies so difficult? If we truly believe that our bodies are gifts from a loving Heavenly Father created in His image do we struggle in Mormon culture with conversations about sexual intimacy, natural body function, puberty, etc.?
I think framing the human body as something disgusting, dirty, and sinful is an unrighteous tradition that we have inherited from our Puritan roots. I don’t think it comes from God. I think Heavenly Father wants us to love and appreciate our bodies. Concepts like chastity and modesty were never meant to be used as the chains we beat ourselves with. It’s no wonder why so many Mormons are discovering a love of yoga, meditation, exercise, delicious food, or other practices that help reconnect us to an appreciation of our bodies. We’re starving for that kind of acknowledgement, and it tastes a lot better than bland breakfast cereal.