T hough more popularly noted for his role in the American Revolution and early American politics, in his personal life, Franklin expressed a continuous interest in food and the particular ways in which one could eat. Franklin, a man of simple tastes, most definitely enjoyed food (Franklin 1964: 55). His later tastes for simple foods can be accredited to the simple foods he was served as a young boy. In addition to the attainment of simple tastes, Franklin's childhood taught him to consider meals and eating to be a social function. Throughout his life, Franklin, as often as he could, continued this family tradition (Chinard 1958: 7).
At age sixteen, Franklin read Thomas Tyron's The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness (1683), which recommended "temperance in eating and drinking, and moderation in their sleep and exercise. By such methods as these the seeds of vice might more easily . . . be subdued and a foundation laid for the building upon an excellent and accomplished person" (Tyron 1683: 34). It is the morality of good diet that appealed to Franklin. He strictly followed this vegetable diet for a short while, and soon started eating fish, reasoning that, "when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken out of their stomachs: Then thought I, if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you" (Zall 2005: 163). The philosophy Tyron expressed in his book pervaded Franklin's moral virtues, which he included in his writing of Poor Richard's Almanac. While Franklin did enjoy both eating and drinking, he tried not to overdo either one, as he stated in Poor Richard's Almanac, "Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation" (Chinard 1958: 12). Also included in one of Franklin's many versions of Poor Richard's, was the instruction to his fellow countrymen, "to supply our selves from our own Produce at home" (Chinard 1958: 12).
As an avid traveler, Franklin enjoyed tastes and recipes from abroad; yet, he still remained true to American food and flavors. In his 1742 version of Poor Richard's, the section, "Rules of Health and Long Life, and to Preserve from Malignant Fevers, and Sickness in General," demonstrates Franklin's dedication to eating for health. Franklin was also an advocate of the strenuous life. His belief in swimming as a sport made it popular in England, where William Wyndham offered to fund Franklin's creation of the first swim club. As with diet, it was a book that Franklin had read, Melchisedec Thevenot's The Art of Swimming and Advice for Bathing (1696), that persuaded him of the health benefits of exercise. With all of this said, and while Franklin did avidly believe in eating for health, he no doubt enjoyed his food, as he was over 300 pounds at the time he died.
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