For some reason it has been the pattern for those of the early health food and breakfast cereal companies that are still extant to have been created by the combined vision of a pair of men, one a practical businessman and the other a health food nut: Kellogg's was founded by the brothers William Keith Kellogg and John Harvey Kellogg; Ralston Purina was started by William Danforth as Purina Mills and later renamed to capitalise on the success of Webster Edgerly's Ralston Health Club; and William Matthaei, an experienced baker, turned the Roman Meal company originally founded by Dr. Robert G. Jackson into a national success.
The rather strange illustration at left shows Dr. Jackson, represented like a statue of an athlete in front of an idealised classical landscape. The text printed beneath it in the book reads as follows:-
PHOTO OF THE AUTHOR AS AT 75
The perfection of physique manifested in the above photograph can be attained in and maintained into very advanced life only by living in accordance with nature's living rules plainly written in the wide-open book of nature.
(Whatever Jackson's qualifications as an advocate of healthy living, he was certainly not the world's greatest prose stylist).
Jackson was not a bigoted charlatan like Edgerly nor obsessed with the perils of masturbation like J H Kellogg: he was a trained physician who had cured his own ill health through a tough regime, and who had hence come to believe that everyone else should follow his lead. Born in Edwardsburg, Ontario, Canada in 1865, he was apparently a sickly individual until middle age when he conceived his combination of a diet of “natural foods” coupled with a rigorous program of physical exercise. This approach was so successful that he achieved an undeniably athletic physique and - he claimed - perfect health.
Jackson wrote a number of books in which he set out his philosophy of health, including How to be Always Well. His fundamental idea is that civilization threatens the wellbeing of the human race as unnatural foodstuffs poison the insides, clothing inhibits the proper functioning of the skin and sedentary habits cause the muscles to atrophy. Hence, if you want to be healthy, reject the evils of civilized living and follow Jackson's way to a better life.
Unlike the typical modern diet'n'health guru peddling effortless schemes, Jackson required austerity and commitment from his followers. To illustrate, here is his own daily regimen:
I sleep in an unheated room (unheated at night), year round, windows open top and bottom, bed screened from draft, and wear no night clothes (pyjamas or nightshirt), but always sufficient bed coverings to keep me comfortable. Early morning I throw bed coverings over foot of bed and exercise for a half hour lying on the bed nude, windows still open, as they have been all night, regardless of temperature. Of course, in below zero weather I do not open windows so widely as in more temperate weather, but always they are open top and bottom. After bed exercises I retire to bathroom, open window when it is not frozen too hard to be opened; drink three glasses of water, hot or cold as suits fancy; respond to nature's calls; cleanse teeth; shave, wash, take a second set of exercises standing, designed to exercise fully all the muscles of the body, but especially those about the waist and abdomen; follow with quick, cold bath, taken as follows: Soap parts where odors might be present from accumulations; scrub with well-wrung-out washcloth; wash off soap with sopping washcloth; immerse body quickly for a few seconds, rapidly rotating the body with a side-to-side rocking movement while immersed; stand in tub, wring washcloth and briskly friction the entire body with it, then make it into a tight roll and grasp it firmly with both hands, arms fully extended straight forward from shoulders, hands close together, palms down make very rapid striking movements with both hands, simultaneously moving the whole body by bringing the hip and kneejoints into rhythmic movements with the striking movements of the arms and hands, one hundred times; take four to six deep breaths, exhaling through the compressed lips, and simultaneously raising the arms outward from the sides until they meet overhead during the inhalation, and lowering them during the exhalation; same position, grasping rolled washcloth, arms forward, snap arms sharply to one side, six to ten inches, then as sharply in the opposite direction, oscillating very fast one hundred times; repeat deep breathing.
I then rub my body well with wrung-out washcloth; leave tub and allow body to dry in air or wind through open window while with closed fists I pommel myself from scalp to toes; follow with a quick palm rub over the entire body that can be reached. Regardless of room temperature, I am now glowingly warm and completely thrilled. I dress without underwear, winter or summer, and begin a five-mile walk wearing no underwear, vest, nor overcoat in the coldest weather; in summer as few clothes as the conventions and the law allow. Then I breakfast on fruit and half-and-half or Kofy-Sub (apples, oranges, and grapefruit or the sweet fruits - especially in winter - dates, raisins, figs prunes, or any fruits in season). Lunch is a large bowl of granulated wholemeal porridge (Roman Meal), with milk; or Roman Meal bread with butter, honey (my only sweet with the exception of sweet fruits), and Kofy-Sub to drink; and a large leafy salad with onions, radishes or tomatoes in their season. Dinner is almost always a large salad, as above, with cheese, cottage cheese, baked beans, nuts or nutbutter. Frequently, in winter, I add steamed vegetables, served only with butter and little or no salt. In summer, dinner may be berries and milk only. In winter, if I feel I have over-indulged in food, I may make a dinner of sweet fruits and milk, or nuts and raisins and a cup of Kofy-Sub. I eat no dessert, unless it be a few dates or raisins or the acid fruits.
Occasionally, I live for one or more entire days upon juicy fruits alone, or juicy fruits and half-and-half, to rest and cleanse the digestive tract and the blood, and change the intestinal flora.
“Half-and-half” is half milk and half boiling water; “Roman Meal” and “Kofy-Sub” were both products of Jackson's own company, the former still available, while the latter was a coffee substitute made from roasted wholemeal grains (yum!). This extract is taken from a chapter quaintly entitled My Own Daily “Effort” that means the “Development” of Bodily Perfection.
Jackson suffered from a relatively minor form of crankery in which “what works for me” becomes “the only true way”. Much of his advice, while tending to the extreme, has a kernel of good sense in it, but he could not - or would not - see that most people neither require nor welcome the sort of life he proposed for them. The comforts of civilization, that he termed “sinful”, do not result in most cases in the sort of very poor health that he suffered before he changed his ways. In some ways, he was a very unlucky man, to require the sort of careful regard for his body described above in order to enjoy wellbeing; yet he made sufficient commercial capital out of the foodstuffs he invented to die rich. The mansion he built with his money, “Valley Halla” is now part of Toronto Zoo.
Scribbled by Alfred Armstrong 15 years 3 weeks ago