Sylvester Graham was born July 5, 1794 in Suffield, Connecticut as the 17th child of Reverend John Graham.
Sylvester entered Amherst College in 1923 but did not graduate.
He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1826.
Grahamites, as Sylvester Graham’s followers were called, accepted the teaching of their mentor with regard to all aspects of lifestyle.
As such, they practiced abstinence from alcohol, frequent bathing, daily brushing of teeth, vegetarianism, and a generally sparse lifestyle. Sylvester Graham also was an advocate of sexual abstinence, especially from masturbation, which he regarded as a catalyst for blindness as well as an evil that inevitably led to insanity among other things.
He felt that all excitement was unhealthful, and spices were among the prohibited ingredients in his diet.
White bread was strongly condemned by Graham and his followers as being essentially devoid of nutrition, a claim echoed by nutritionists ever since.
Around 1829, Sylvester Graham developed his Graham diet, which consisted mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat and high fiber foods, and excluded meat and spices altogether.
Very fresh milk, cheese, and eggs were permitted in moderation, and butter was to be used “very sparingly”.
Graham believed that adhering to this diet would prevent people from having impure thoughts and in turn would stop masturbation.
Sylvester became a prolific writer and speaker for his cause, which was sternly opposed to “bad habits” of the body and mind.
This led Graham to invent graham bread – what we know of as the graham cracker.
Graham crackers were made from unsifted flour and free from chemical additives such as alum and chlorine.
Graham argued that chemical additives in regular bread made it unwholesome.
Graham believed that a firm cracker made of coarsely ground whole-wheat flour was more nutritious and healthy.
Graham crackers even tasted good according to some local accounts.
During the 1830s, the Graham diet had a moderate response from the mostly puritanical faction of the American public.
In 1837, Graham had difficulty finding a place to speak in Boston because of threatened riots by butchers and commercial bakers.
Then in 1850, he helped found the American Vegetarian Society modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain.
Reverend Sylvester Graham died the following year, on September 11, 1851 at the age of 57, in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a restaurant, Sylvester’s, now sits on the former location of his house.
After their mentor died, some Grahamites lost faith.
Other than graham crackers, the Grahamites’ major contribution to American culture was probably their insistence on frequent bathing.
However, Grahamism became influential in the vegan movement.
The graham cracker recipe first appeared in The New Hydropathic Cookbook in 1855.
Today the graham cracker has become part of American cuisine even though modern graham crackers don’t resemble the graham crackers the Grahamites consumed.
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