Posts in Category: Health

When drinking gin led to epilepsy and other teetotaling tales

Abstinence pledge card.  23 September 1842.  (GLC 2542.27.  The Gilder Lehrman Collection, on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Abstinence pledge card. 23 September 1842. (The Gilder Lehrman Collection, on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

January 17, 1920: the day Americans were legally prohibited from consuming alcohol for the next 13 years—the day the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. But teetotalism had been popular in America for nearly a century before the government got involved.

Alcohol had long been the target of American reformers who aimed to restore order to society through publishing diatribes on the harmful effects of excessive drinking, such as this illuminating pamphlet by University of Pennsylvania professor, Dr. Benjamin Rush, An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind (in its 8th edition by 1823).

A note to those considering imbibing tonight: Dr. Rush warns that while small amounts of alcohol “have a friendly influence upon health and life,” overindulgence in anything as innocent as punch leads to idleness, which leads to sickness and eventually to debt. Cordials lead to swindling, while the stronger stuff like gin and brandy will ultimately lead to murder and…the gallows. He suggests sticking to water which brings “health and wealth”—a radical concept at a time when the quality of most water was questionable.

An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind

An Inquiry Into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, by Dr. Benjamin Rush (1823)

American Teetotalism actually has its origins in Ireland with the Catholic Temperance movement when priest Mathew Theobald established the Cork Total Abstinence Society in 1838. His followers each signed a pledge of total alcohol abstinence and met on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sundays after Mass. In just the first five months, Theobald had conscribed 130,000 members. He began taking his cause on the road and eventually came to the U.S. in 1849 where he enlisted another 500,000. Catherine Cauty was the  4,281,797th to sign the pledge, promising to “abstain from all intoxicating drinks, except used medicinally and by order of a medical man, and to discountenance the cause and practice of intemperance.” The above card illustrates the consequences of alcohol consumption: wife-beating, and the benefits of temperance: a happy family gathering in front of a hearth.

The rise and fall of orange juice as a health drink

The magical cure for everything from singlehood to the common cold

OJ ad 2

The very first thing I do each morning is not shower, not check my email, not even caffeinate. I open up the fridge, reach for a plastic bottle and pour myself a small glass of orange juice. The citrus and sweetness seem to go through my tastebuds and right to that “on” switch in my brain. You know how courteous hosts ask if there’s anything you’d like them to stock up on when you’re visiting, and this is meant as a gesture rather than an invitation? Well, I actually answer: orange juice.

So when I started researching how orange juice became a staple of the American breakfast, it did not surprise me that its reputation for restoring energy and vitality was a central marketing theme. What I didn’t expect was that its meteoric rise to breakfast classic also involved a scare over a rare blood condition, an obsession with vitamin C and nearly a decade of government research. Oh, and then there’s this: If you value your morning glass of orange juice with its happy bits of pulp and consider it to be as close to the real thing as can be readily available at your local supermarket, do not read on. If, however, you are prepared to be nauseated by your once innocent glass of store-bought orange juice, this one’s for you.

“Most commercial orange juice is so heavily processed that it would be undrinkable if not for the addition of something called flavor packs. This is the latest technological innovation in the industry’s perpetual quest to mimic the simplicity of fresh juice. Oils and essences are extracted from the oranges and then sold to a flavor manufacturer who concocts a carefully composed flavor pack customized to the company’s flavor specifications. The juice, which has been patiently sitting in storage sometimes for more than a year, is then pumped with these packs to restore its aroma and taste, which by this point have been thoroughly annihilated. You’re welcome.”

For more on flavor packs, juice processing and the entire orange juice industry, read Alissa Hamilton’s illuminating book, Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice. I’m not sure what my mornings are going to look like from now on, but thanks to her I’ve drunk my last glass of year-old orange juice. For more on how we got here in the first place, read the rest of my piece on TheAtlantic.com: The Myth of Orange Juice as a Health Drink.

Here are some delightful orange juice commercials that didn’t make it into the piece:
1950′s canned Florida Citrus: “Because I like to get my vitamin C the way nature intended.”
1950′s Florida Citrus Fresh-Frozen: “Quench your thirst with health.”
1954 animated Bing Crosby for Minute Maid: “Healthier teeth, sturdier bones, better growth, rich red blood, and more vitality.”
1980 Florida Orange Growers: “It isn’t just for breakfast anymore.”
1993 Tropicana Pure Premium Grovestand: “The newest orange juice sensation…a taste so fresh, so pure, so real, every sip is like biting into an orange.”

 

Graham crackers for the depraved soul

smoreSylvester Graham says: white flour does not give the teeth or the stomach a proper workout and leads to a “lazy colon.”

Poor Reverend Sylvester Graham only wanted to save Americans from themselves and their harmful sexual urges, glutinous habits and materialism. His solution: crackers.

This most humble and innocent of American snacks has a strange and unlikely history that spans health and dress reforms, temperance movements, early vegetarianism, a mob of bakers, and the birth of the entire cereal industry. Read my full story on TheAtlantic.com and listen to me talk all about Grahamism on New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth.

 

The historic healing power of the beach

Image via Wiki Commons

Image via Wiki Commons

What if your doctor actually prescribed you a trip to the beach? These days we go to the beach to relax and rejuvenate. But we used to believe that a trip to the beach would actually cure us. Eighteenth century British beachgoers dunked themselves in the chilly waters of the North Sea to relieve their moral and physical ailments. For decades, taking in sea air and drinking seawater was prescribed with medical certainty. Through the tuberculosis epidemic of the nineteenth century, the seaside was a place of refuge and rehabilitation for the wealthy. Eventually, as the middle class flocked to the beach in the twentieth century, we turned our gazes from the sea to the sun–the new source of therapeutic wonder that rejuvenated and revitalized us with the tans to prove it. Here’s the full story on The Atlantic.

 

 

Get your health rays this winter

 

Cel-O-Glass

In America, we like our substitutes. We like sugar substitutes, meat substitutes, and in the 1920′s, we apparently liked glass substitutes. In 1927, Time Magazine published a short article promoting the practicality of newfangled glass substitutes: “Children and animals that live in glassed houses are cheated of that ultraviolet part of the sun’s light which helps the bones ossify. The glass blocks the ultraviolet rays; the children and animals become rickety. Therefore glass substitutes have recently appeared for sale.”

One such wundermaterial was Cel-O-Glass. It was produced by a company out of New York City and promised all the qualities of glass with added medicinal value. Cel-O-Glass was marketed as a new glass-like product particularly useful for constructing a kind of closed-in porch. And, bonus: Cel-O-Glass, which was was “approved by the authorities,” let in the “vitalizing ultra-violet rays of the sun. These are the health rays which produce a healthy coat of tan in the summer. In winter, you can get these rays indoors through Cel-O-Glass.”

For the first three decades of the twentiesth century, sun rays were thought to prevent and cure tuberculosis and rickets (which is partially caused by a vitamin D deficiency, so I guess they were on to something there). According to “The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth,” sunlight was also an important element of the eugenics movement, thought to be “nature’s universal disinfectant, as well as a stimulant and tonic.” That sun-kissed look, which used to be associated with field work and peasantry, became the height of fashion and health–a tribute to the sculpted and bronzed bodies of ancient Rome and a marker of one’s abundant leisure time spent soaking up the sun on the beach. But come summer, what was a decoloring sun worshiper to do? Thanks to Cel-O-Glass, winter never had to get between you and those “vitalizing” ultra violet rays again.