A child's hand holding a s'more

Food Rituals, Addiction & S’mores

I can’t think about childhood without thinking of food rituals. I particularly remember Graham Crackers and s’mores. When I got hungry between meals, I begged for a Graham Cracker. When I was sick and had sympathy on my side, I asked for a Graham Cracker in my weakest sickbed voice. I can’t think of Graham Crackers without images of the s’more rising to the surface.

Carbohydrate Addiction

I thought the universe was giving me an enormous gift when my mother handed me a Graham Cracker as a reward for good behavior, I didn’t know that carbohydrate addiction training was going on. My mother was a carbohydrate addict, and she was training me in her food rituals. She, unwittingly, set me up for a lifetime of struggles with my weight.

To learn if you’re a carbohydrate addict, you can read my book, Confessions of a Carbohydrate Addict http://home and read another post on this blog https://carbohydrateconfessions.com/carbs-make-us-fat/.

The S’more and Me

Who in the United States hasn’t been at a childhood outdoor outing and been sent out to search for a branch of the perfect size and shape to toast a marshmallow over the campfire?

The purpose of the branch, for those souls who’ve missed out on this ritual, is to toast a marshmallow into an oozing mass of sugar and sandwich it between two Graham Crackers and 4 squares of Hershey chocolate. The s’more ritual, invented by Boy Scouts, began as early as early as 1925. The term s’more, of course, is a play on the phrase “some more”.

S’mores illustrate all that is best and worst about food rituals.

Food Rituals, Sugar, and Addiction

After my mother linked sugar treats to rewards for good behavior, she reinforced my budding addiction with food rituals. Birthdays, for example. They were the best. Why? Chocolate cake! My teachers, youth organizations, and the advertising on my favorite television shows also fed my carb addiction with food rituals of their own.

It doesn’t take much to create a carbohydrate addict. Nature programmed or wired us to seek sweet foods. What ups the carbohydrate addiction ante is the addition of rituals. Although Mother Nature set the stage by wiring us to like sugar, we give power to the addiction by tying in rituals. We turn liking into wanting.

The Sacred S’more Ritual Begins

The s’more ritual is my most powerful memory of a a carbohydrate ritual because of the intricate steps needed to complete the ritual. These steps cemented the addiction pathway into the developing reward centers of our brains.

The S’more Ritual began before dinner with a search for the perfect branch. We approached the branch gathering mission with solemnity. We ran helter-skelter about the camping area in search of that one branch among branches.

Our branch had to have the following qualities:

  • be large enough to support a marshmallow
  • small enough to punch through the marshmallow without shredding it
  • long enough to keep your fingers away from the fire
  • green.

If the branch failed any of these tests, the marshmallow would fall into the fire. This was nothing short of a disaster. You lost out on the first round of toasting and had to try to wheedle a bit of a friend’s.

The S’more Ritual Continues

The ritual began in earnest after dinner as the sun sank over the horizon and the embers of the fire glowed a special deep red. We watched with anticipation as the outing leaders broke out the ingredients and distributed the first round of marshmallows.

The Art of Roasting Marshmallows

We then jostled for position around the dwindling campfire. If you picked an ember area that was too cool, your marshmallow wouldn’t brown. If you picked an ember area that was still flaming, your marshmallow would ignite.

As Camp Fire Girls, we argued the merits of various modes of preparation. Was it better to hold the marshmallow far above the flames and allow it to slowly toast to a golden bubbly brown or should you let the fire flames ignite the marshmallow?

The Scientific Approach to Marshmallow Roasting

I tried both approaches and assessed the advantages of each. Setting the marshmallow aflame approach was quick. In moments, you had the warm mass of sugar, and your treat could be enjoyed. The downside was the burned marshmallow shell. Yuck! On the other hand, the slow approach had its merits. First, no burnt marshmallow to contend with. Second, your slow approach irritated the other kids who just wanted to get on with it and get to the second round of s’mores.

Naturally, I chose irritating my friends by selecting just the right spot in the fire and slowly rotating my treasure over the flame, pulling it to my lips occasionally to blow on it. I ignored my friends’ taunts. “Hurry Up! You’re so slow.”

I Still Crave S’mores

As a recovering Carbohydrate Addict, I still love the s’more. I don’t eat them now because I dial in my better self. The craving to enter into this food ritual will never leave me. It has been enshrined.

The Real History of the Graham Cracker

We carbohydrate addicts in training could’ve never imagined the original purpose of the Graham Cracker was to be a nutritional substitute for foods which might lead us to unnatural sexual acts, specifically masturbation. We would never have guessed that the original Graham Cracker wasn’t sweet. In fact, the original Graham Cracker was a health food for vegans.

Sylvester Graham

Sylvester Graham Photo. Graham developed the Graham Cracker for vegetarians.

Sylvester Graham invented the cracker which bears his name.

The image came from the Library of Congress.

Sylvester Graham was born in Connecticut in 1794. He was a sickly boy with few friends. After his parents died, he lived with relatives. There is some dispute about his education, and he may have been expelled from Amherst College after an alleged sexual assault. He may have had a “nervous breakdown”, and he married his nurse. He asked a local church to allow him to serve as a minister.

Since he had the gift of oratory, Graham began to gain a following as an itinerant minister in 1828. He preached that sex, materialism, and gluttony made people physically ill. He asked his followers to swear off meat, milk, refined flour, coffee, and spices because these stimulated sexual urges. “If you’re eating meat, you’re acting like an animal,” he railed.

Several contemporary writers influenced his opinion that what we eat directly affects our health. He worked for the temperance movement, and after several years, he founded the Grahamism Movement and The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity. He was also a founder of the American Physiological Society.

Graham, Animal Instincts, and the Cracker

As part of the active reformist movement in the United States, Graham promoted health, a vegetarian diet, and the control of the destructive animal instincts. He created a snack that reflected his values, a flavorless, brittle, whole wheat biscuit. He used finely ground unbleached wheat and wheat germ to create his cracker.

Graham believed that chewing his crackers would help adolescents suppress sexual desires. He believed that becoming sexually overheated caused pulmonary disease, epilepsy, insanity, spinal disease, headaches, and indigestion. He suggested that too much lust could result in the early deaths of offspring and a weakening of the genetic stock.

Graham Was a Vegetarian

Graham wanted his followers to eat vegetables and drink pure water. He argued wheat was very beneficial to health. His grain-based diet, combined with his religious lectures, sparked a grain-based fad diet in the 1830’s. The gentry, however, favored breads made by bakers who used refined flour.

Mrs. Putnam and the Original Vegan Baker

Graham may have been the first vegan baker. Although his original recipe is lost, Mrs. Putnam’s Receipt Book had a recipe for Graham Bread in her 1850’s cookbook.

Mrs. Putnam's Cookbook was written before the Civil War. It was subtitled the Young Housekeepers Assistant

4 quarts unbolted wheat

Teaspoon of good yeast

1/2 cup molasses

1 Tbsp Salt

Enough warm water to make a stiff dough

Public Response to Graham

Graham generated a variety of strongly held opinions. The medical community dismissed him as a crank. His followers credited him with better health and freedom from illness. Butchers and bakers stormed his lectures and claimed that Graham was bad for business. Angry men protested his lectures because they didn’t think Graham should be talking frankly about sex in front of women.

Graham and Kellogg

One influential man listened intently to Graham’s ideas. That man was John Harvey Kellogg, the founder of Kellogg’s cereal brand.

Picture of J. H. Kellogg founder of Kellogg Corporation in his college graduation robes.

Kellogg considered himself to be a Grahamite when he developed granola cereal in 1878.

Graham, and later Kellogg, helped establish the rationale for Victorian Sex Ethics. Both men saw food and sex as dangers to self-control and independence, and Kellogg popularized the fiction that masturbation was a disease.

Kellogg and Cornflakes

Vintage poster showing woman feeding a child some Corn Flakes. The poster is supporting the activities of the Campfire Girls.

Kellogg launched Corn Flakes Cereal, a brand which revolutionized the cereal industry.

The surprising link Camp Fire Girls and the cereal manufacturer caught my eye. The image is from the Library of Congress.

Today’s Graham Cracker

After Graham’s death, several bakers tried to market Graham Crackers, but they were unsuccessful. Nabisco purchased the Graham Cracker brand in 1898. They added sugar and cinnamon to the wheat and wheat germ cracker recipe, and the cracker was a success. Years later, Nabisco introduced the Honey Maid line which included honey. Today’s Graham Crackers are now made from beached white flour.

What Would Graham Think?

Graham believed white flour was poison. His vision of pure food was turned into everything he despised. His Graham Crackers became sweets used as rewards. Children are induced to consume sugar and white flour in Bacchanalian rituals around a campfire.

What Are Your Rituals?

There’s a point to these reminiscences. We all have addictive rituals which support our over-consumption of carbohydrate loaded foods. Mine is s’mores. What’s yours?

Take a moment and remember your food rituals. Do these rituals still influence you today? If you think not, think again.


The post image is from Pixabay.

I’m indebted to sources which provided information on Graham, Kellogg, and Graham Crackers. If you want to know more, check out these sites. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester_Graham






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