Monday, July 14, 2014

Graham Cracker: An Ironic Beginning

Sylvester Graham
Graham crackers are used for wide varieties of deserts. In the Philippines, it can be used to make different kinds of frozen treats, from cheesecake to sansrival. But from looking at the start of the graham crackers, the man who invented it would not just disapproved but appalled to how his invention used for making sweet goods.

Sylvester Graham was the man responsible for the creation of the graham cracker. He was born in 1794 in Suffield, Graham. In 1823, he entered Amherst College but drop out suddenly and took theological courses to become a pastor. He did become a Presbyterian pastor in 1826. As a pastor, he learned from the Quakers the importance of temperance, celibacy, and a moral and proper diet. Since then he became a firebrand preacher against excessiveness and in his view, the degrading and commercialized low quality of food.

In the early 1800’s, the United States faced a huge waved of urbanization. With industrialization coming to the city, jobs attracted people from rural to migrate. Many cities became widely overpopulated. With the increasing people meant increasing number of stomachs to feed. And so pesticides were use in agriculture. Food processing became intense. Food production, like bread baking, became mechanized and produce in an industrialized scale. To increase the life span of food chemicals were added. But also dangerous chemicals were also unknowingly added like copper minerals and chlorine among others.

For Graham, this commercialization of food caused individuals to become weaken instead of being nurtured. In his view, processing food caused its loss of nutrients and vitamins. The more food became processed, the more it lost its nutrients. In addition, he also loathed condiments like sugar and salt. He also hated coffee and tea. It was important for him to keep food to be home cooked rather than bought in market places.  For him a food must be pure and unprocessed as possible. He practiced this in 1829. He made his own flour that was coarsely milled and was called Graham flour. And with the Graham flour, Graham introduced a flat bread that would also bear his name. Graham cracker was born.

There are huge amount of difference from today’s Graham cracker from that of its original. Today graham crackers had a lot of chemicals. There were chemicals from preservatives. And also, graham crackers today has sugar. While the graham crackers in the past had no sugar as preached by Graham. That is why, once Sylvester Graham what modern did to his invention, he would surely be horrified.

Graham Crackers became popular to dietary reformist. Vegetarians and followers of Graham, dubbed Grahamites, made Graham crackers as part of their diet. It was eaten with naturally grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts. During 1830’s, pollution within cities caused massive outbreaks of cholera. Graham’s prediction of unhealthy results of living in city was fulfilled. And so, it caused many people to follow his dietary revolution and Graham crackers spread. Grahamites established hotels, called Graham Hotels, which served the diets suggested by Graham.  In addition to hotels, graham crackers also spread through his publication of a magazine about his food revolution. Title, the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity, he expounded the benefits of his diet regimen in addition to daily exercise and to have fresh air.

Manufacturing of Graham Crackers began in 1850. Russell Thacher Trall, a Grahamite, began to produce Graham crackers from his factory. Its popularity continued to rise and in 1898 the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) began to manufacture it as well in 1898. The Nabisco Graham crackers made the deviations from the original composition. To suit the taste of consumers, sugar was added to add taste. In addition, preservatives were added to lengthen its shelf-life. And in mid-1900’s honey flavor was added.

The story of Graham crackers was very ironic. It was intended to be bland in order to make uncontaminated by commercialization. It was meant to be part of a healthy diet. But with commercial opportunities, it was transformed into a commercialized cracker that became a base for so many deserts today. Graham Cracker was indeed ironic.
Smith, A. Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2012.

Smith, A. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink  in America. New York: Oxford University Press. 2013.

Puskar-Pasewicz, M. Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2010. 

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