Eat Right, Feel Light: Claude Clark Cody’s Prescribed Diet

Prescribed Diet [Claude Carr Cody Collection]


During the early twentieth century people began to became increasingly health conscious. They were changing their diets, exercising more regularly and just making changes in their general lifestyle altogether. Dr. Kellogg, founder of Battle Creek Sanitarium and creator of Kellogg’s cereal played a major role in the medical reformation of the 20th century. Although he was often ridiculed by his colleagues for some of his beliefs, Dr. Kellogg was rather successful.  His success is illustrated by the vast number of people from all over the country who flocked to his Sanitarium in hopes of changing to a better lifestyle. Among these people was former Southwestern president C.C. Cody.  Cody’s documents from his time at the sanitarium provide us with insight as to what exactly went on there. Among the documents is his possessions was a diet prescription card, on which I chose to focus my analysis.The diet prescription card is made from thick card stock, and resembles an old library card.  The card has different categories such as “Cereals”, “Vegetables”, “Breads”, “ Beverages”, “Relishes”, and “Cooked Vegetables”, and there are several different items listed under each category. For instance under “Vegetables” the items “baked potato” and “lima beans” were listed. Next to each listed item was a box that dieticians would check off if they felt a certain item was suitable for their patient. Cody’s diet prescription card is the center of my analysis because although at first glance it may seem to be just a card with food choices printed on it, this card really does provide us with a vast amount of information about health and diet in the early twentieth century.

The Battle Creek Sanitarium was not like any ordinary hospital that we have today. People did not go there when they had broken bones or required surgeries. The purpose of the this sanitarium was to get people on the track to living a more healthy lifestyle. It resembled more of a modern spa. The Battle Creek Sanitarium offered massages and gymnastics, but it also offered diagnostic and therapeutic technology more likely to find at a hospital rather than a spa such as urine examination, enemas, and prescribed diets. Although some of these technologies may not seem too pleasant and it’s a little difficult to understand why people would voluntarily lend themselves to  to such interventions, the Battle Creek Sanitarium was actually quite popular. People from all over the country, including many celebrities, flocked to the sanitarium  in search of a healthier life.

During 1914, C.C. Cody, who was the president of Southwestern University at the time, made a trip to the sanitarium. During his stay Cody was prescribed specific diets by a dietician named Florence C. Harvey. Although only one diet prescription card was found among Cody’s possessions, this one card does provide us with substantial information that aids in uncovering the truth about health in the early twentieth century. On the night of September 14 1914, dietitian Harvey prescribed wheat toast, vegetable soup, and pureed lima beans for Cody for dinner. Although this meal wouldn’t be many people’s first choice, it isn’t completely out of the ordinary. However, the fact that Harvey specifically ordered for Cody’s lima beans to be pureed might be considered odd. This seems to be related to Kellogg’s recommendation to masticate food until it becomes a paste ready to be swallowed .

If you don’t have prior knowledge about John Harvey Kellogg or the general public’s beliefs toward health in the early twentieth century, you might wonder why cereal was listed on a diet prescription card for dinner. Today cereal is often thought of as solely being a breakfast food, which is why it’s placement on a dinner diet prescription card may seem odd, but this was not the case during the early twentieth century. Reasoning behind the inclusion of cereal on the dinner diet prescription card became increasingly clearer after learning more about Dr. Kellogg. Kellogg was very interested in studying the bowel which he was often ridiculed for. He believed that having a clean bowel was very important and it was this belief that led him to create Kellogg’s cereal. Kellogg’s belief in a clean bowel and his commitment to have a diet rich in cereals to achieve this purpose might have led him to include cereals as one of the main components of a daily diet, even during dinner. After all the main purpose of the sanitarium was to get it’s patients on the track to living a healthier life which in Kellogg’s eyes included a clean bowel. Consequently, it is very likely that dieticians would prescribe cereal for patients who had trouble “cleaning their bowels” on their own. Kellogg’s belief in the need for a clean bowel would also explain why the diet prescription card includes so many whole grain choices rich in fiber such as wheat toast. Another thing that can be explained by Kellogg’s beliefs is the fact that there were no meat options on the diet prescription card. The reasoning behind the exclusion of meat on the card is that vegetarianism was first emerging during this time. People were changing their lifestyles and cutting meat out of their diet because they believed that sustaining from eating meat would increase longevity. In fact, The Battle Creek Sanitarium was one of the first institutions to introduce the idea of vegetarianism and was part of the reason that the new lifestyle became so big in America at the time.

So what exactly does this this old, faded document say about the world of health and medicine during the 20th century? Well first of all, the fact that this diet prescription card even exists proves that diet was believed to be an essential part of a healthy lifestyle during this time or at least to the founders and workers of the Battle Creek Sanitarium. If the founders of Battle Creek Sanitarium did not believe that diet was important they probably would not have hired dieticians to prescribe diets for their patients. They would have just allowed the patients to eat whatever they desired.

The Battle Creek Sanitarium greatly influenced the public’s idea of health and a healthy  diet in the early twentieth century. The Sanitarium had many patients over the years, but its influence stretched beyond the walls of the sanitarium and managed to touch even individuals who never stepped foot inside. The Battle Creek Sanitarium played a major role in the health reform of the early twentieth century as did Dr. John Harvey Kellogg whose influence can still be seen today. Even though the Sanitarium is no longer functioning, Kellogg’s influence on health and diet still remains and can be seen in the breakfast aisle at the grocery store and even just by the fact that vegetarianism still exists.

By: Michaela Garcia


Howard Markel, John Harvey Kellogg and the pursuit of wellness

Adam D, Shprintzen, The vegetarian crusade: The rise of an american reform 1817-1921.