THE BLOG
03/23/2016 12:45 pm ET | Updated Mar 23, 2016

How the Seventh-day Adventist Church Gave You Breakfast Cereal: You're Welcome

Whenever people ask me what religion I was raised in I know that immediately after I sound out the whole name, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, they are going to ask me a list of follow up questions for clarification. For the purposes of this post I am going to distill the myriad questions that have been asked over the years down to some of my favorites.

"Oh you are the religion that wears special underwear?"

No, those are Mormons or Orthodox Jews or Sikhs, depending on the kind of underwear one is referring to.

"You're the religion that is opposed to blood transfusions right?"

Nope...those would be the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Christian Scientists.

"Ah then you're the religion that believes in polygamy?"

Uh, no...that would be either the fundamentalist sects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Islam.

But my personal favorite is this common misconception, "Adventism...that's the religion founded by the guy who invented corn flakes."

Well no...the last statement is factually incorrect. But there is some relationship between Adventism and corn flakes. Let me explain.

To be clear, the Seventh-day Adventist Church was not founded by the man who invented corn flakes. The church was established in 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan by a collective of individuals who were the remnants of the Millerite movement and who had developed a doctrine of beliefs about the practice of Christianity, such as the return to keeping the Jewish Sabbath (the seventh day...also known as Saturday) as the day of rest and the Second Coming of Christ. But none of the fundamental beliefs of the church had anything to do with the exaltation of breakfast cereal. So where does this misconception come from?

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg was born in 1852 in Livingston County, Michigan to parents who converted to Adventist beliefs shortly after his birth. When he was twelve years old, a year after the official establishment of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, James White, husband of the prophet of the church Ellen G. White and founding member of the denomination, invited John Harvey Kellogg to learn the printing trade at the Review and Herald Press. By 1873 John Harvey Kellogg was an honorary member of the first family of the Adventist church. James and Ellen encouraged him to enroll in medical school at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York.

When he graduated two years later he returned to Michigan and took over operations of the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek. As superintendent he began implementing many treatments that were considered radical for the time. These treatments ranged from promoting a low-fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diet to the aggressive use of enemas (mainly his special yogurt enemas that would have made the makers of Activia and Jamie Lee Curtis proud). He also pushed the idea of the importance of whole grains and replacing meat with nuts as a protein source.

He renamed the Western Health Reform Institute the Battle Creek Sanitarium and described his health-centered utopia as "a composite physiologic method comprising hydrotherapy, phototherapy, thermotherapy, electrotherapy, mechanotherapy, dietetics, physical culture, cold-air cure, and health training." The rich and famous flocked to the health resort for daily exercise classes, lessons in proper breathing, lectures on nutrition and wellness and to learn about the Seventh-day Adventist Health message. Patients included President Warren G. Harding (whose family would convert to Seventh-day Adventism), Amelia Earhart, Henry Ford, Mary Todd Lincoln and C.W. Post, the founder of Post Cereals.

Okay so it goes without saying that yes, the history of Seventh-day Adventism and American breakfast cereal are inextricably intertwined. Though breakfast cereal did not serve as the catalyst for the founding of the church and the goal of this article is to dispel the myth that John Harvey Kellogg invented corn flakes and then the Adventist church it cannot be denied that the breakfast cereal industry and lovers of grains soaked in milk everywhere owe the Seventh-day Adventist church a debt of gratitude. The role of the Adventists in the development of Post Raisin Bran will have to have its own article some other time. This article is Kellogg-centric.

Corn Flakes

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg had been experimenting with grains in order to provide his patients at the Battle Creek Sanitarium with nutritious vegetarian alternatives to the standard American diet of the day. But the idea for corn flakes began quite by accident when on August 8, 1894 Kellogg and his younger brother Will Keith (better known as W.K. Kellogg) left some cooked wheat unattended in the kitchen. Later, they found that the wheat had gone stale, but rather than let it go to waste they decided to continue to process it by forcing it through rollers, hoping to obtain long sheets of the dough. What they discovered was that instead of producing sheets they extruded flakes, which they toasted and served to their patients with a splash of icy cold milk.

Less than a year later on May 31, 1895 "Flaked Cereals and Process of Preparing Same" was filed with the U.S. Patent Office and on April 14, 1896 the patent was issued. And man, breakfast and America would never be the same.

The flakes, which the Brothers Kellogg called granose, were immensely popular with the patients. John Harvey Kellogg even believed consuming them would help deter chronic masturbation. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. He believed that bland wholesome foods would keep the passions subdued and prevent people from indulging in their baser instincts. Kellogg believed that masturbation was at the heart of many chronic illnesses. But I digress.

The brothers experimented with other flakes from other grains. In 1906, W.K. decided to try to mass-market the new food. At his new company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, he took the bold step of adding sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable the masses. And the frosted flake was born.

But W.K.'s addition of the sucrose vice to the wholesome grain cereal was an abomination to his brother and this act of recipe sedition caused a rift between the siblings. Later, in 1928, he would expand his offerings to include puffed rice and unveil a new product line called Rice Krispies.

In 1902 the Battle Creek Sanitarium burned down. At the same time Dr. John Harvey Kellogg began to shift in his spiritual beliefs, turning away from his Adventist roots and adopting a pantheist view. He would ultimately leave the church in 1907.

While John Harvey Kellogg was a prominent member of the Seventh-day Adventist church and arguably a major factor in the denomination's growth and expansion he was not the founder of the faith and the faith is not based off of a love of corn flakes. So in the future if you encounter Seventh-day Adventism remember: no on special underwear, no on polygamy and yes there is a special relationship between Adventists and corn flakes but its not a spiritual connection...unless you ever had the pleasure of eating my grandmother's meatless meatloaf known as corn flake and nut loaf and then you might consider corn flakes as part of a spiritual experience.

CONVERSATIONS