Before the late nineteenth century, most Americans believed a healthy diet was rich in fat, starches, and salt. Many avoided fresh produce, assuming that fruits and vegetables would worsen their health and make them vulnerable to cholera and dysentery. Meat, potatoes, milk, and bread made up the meals served aboard the ship, and those meals were heartily appreciated by the often desperately hungry families sitting at the long wooden dining room tables.
Scientific and public thought about nutrition shifted dramatically near the turn of the twentieth century due to evolving science and the lobbying efforts of farmers and orchard owners.
In 1926, The Floating Hospital of St. John’s Guild was still invested in feeding hungry children and their family members, though vegetables had become the star of its nutritional program. The Guild’s Seaside Hospital in Staten Island set aside a portion of its seventeen-acre property for a produce farm. The hospital boasted, “Five acres of fresh vegetables, all for the children. No Canned food.”* Fresh vegetables had once been considered dangerous and unhealthy, but by the 1920s, they had eclipsed starch and fat to become an essential part of the Hospital’s meal plan.
Ideas about food and health have changed dramatically over time, and they will most likely continue to change. What foods do you think will be “healthy” or “unhealthy” fifty years from now?
Before the late nineteenth century, most Americans believed a healthy diet was rich in fat, starches, and salt. Had there been a food pyramid in those days, there would have been no room for vegetables or fruit. Many Americans avoided fresh produce, believing that fruits and vegetables would worsen their health and make them vulnerable to the ravages of cholera and dysentery. At that time, few thought an apple a day would keep the doctor away.