B etter known as "The Great Masticator," Fletcher was a popular and prominent food and health faddist of early twentieth-century North America. From 1895 to 1919, Fletcher devoted a majority of his time and energy to keenly distributing his doctrine of "Fletcherism." He wrote, "The most important part of nutrition is the right preparation of food in the mouth for further digestion" (Fletcher 1899: 15). This dogma put forward the idea that each mouthful of food should be completely masticated until it turns to liquid which can be done by precisely chewing each mouthful thirty-two times (once for each tooth), or ideally until liquefied, before swallowing. If food could not be liquefied (like fiber), then it should not be eaten in the first place; even "soup, wines, spirits, and other liquids" should be masticated. The reason is that this "is absolutely necessary to protection [sic] against abuse of the stomach and possible disease" (Fletcher 1899: 19). "Infallible evidence" that such an approach worked was that "the excreta [showed] ... that the results of nutrition are observable" (Fletcher i899: 56). Indeed, such rigorous chewing could even eliminate the great scourge of alcoholism: "No Fletcher-ite can be intemperate in the use of alcoholic stimulants" (Fletcher 1913: 36). It is no wonder that Fletcher's method was hailed and adopted by J.H. Kellogg who acknowledged in a letter to Fletcher that it was his work that made him aware of the "possible excess or the careless manner" by which foods were consumed (Fletcher 1903: xxxiv).
While Fletcher did not have any experience in medicine, nutrition, or health, his dogma about health and longevity rose in popularity during the Victorian era. It came to be a part of a culture that rejected obesity as a "disease of the will" and placed control firmly in the hands (or mouth) of the individual: "I argued that if Nature had given us personal responsibility for
[nutrition] it was not hidden away in the dark folds and coils of the alimentary canal where we could not control it. The point was, then, to study the cavity of the mouth" (Fletcher 1913: 5). Self-control was in the form of chewing.
"Nature will castigate those who don't masticate," said Horace Fletcher. Chew your food thirty-two times and you will have a healthier body and a happier soul. This regimen was followed by celebrities such as John D. Rockefeller who advised "Don't gobble your food. Fletcherize, or chew very slowly while you eat" (Fletcher 1913: iii). Even the intelligentsia followed: Novelists Upton Sinclair and Henry James and Henry's brother, the philosopher and psychologist William James, by then a professor at Harvard, all regularly Fletcherized. Franz Kafka's father hid behind the newspaper at the dinner table, not wanting to watch his son compulsively chew.
Fletcher's evidence for his methods was purely anecdotal and experiential. He was denied health insurance in the 1880s due to his weight. "I weighted two hundred and seventeen pounds (about fifty pounds more than I should have for my height of five foot six inches) . . . I was an old man at forty, on the way to rapid decline" (Fletcher 1913: 1). Fletcher applied his technique of continuous chewing and claimed that he went down to 163 pounds. He invented complex validations for his claim, expressing that lengthened chewing would reduce overeating, leading to improved bodily system functions, helping to reduce food intake, and therefore reducing monetary expenses. Fletcher also advised people to eat when they were "good and hungry," not when they were upset or worried. People could eat any type of food as long as it was chewed until the "food swallowed itself."
See also Aboulia; Kellogg
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