My supermarket had the Valentine’s Day candy out on the shelves before the Christmas clearance had been fully marked down. I always recall the son of one of my ASU technicians whom I met while he would visit us back in the time he was taking classes. He is now married with kids, but back then he was very single. I used to tease him that he always got confused this time of year because he couldn’t tell the difference between Valentine’s Day and Palm Sunday. Perhaps he should have been eating more graham crackers.

Minister Sylvester Graham, a married man and a member of the Pennsylvania Temperance Society in the early 1800s, who became a big believer in abstinence and vegetarianism, is usually credited with the invention of the graham cracker. He was ahead of his time in his recommendation for the use of whole wheat in bread-making and his disdain for branless, additive-laden white flour. He even published a Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making and during a cholera outbreak in the 1830 began lecturing on whole foods and healthy habits. These healthy habits most certainly did NOT include masturbation. In fact, his rigorous plan included cold baths, loose clothing (but not loose women), and a meatless diet in order to keep the libido in check. It’s not clear if he or one of his acolytes developed the Graham cracker which was touted as an essential part of the diet for those wishing to avoid masturbation or excess sexual activity.

His lectures targeted at young men spoke of the evils of spices and hot food. His ideas were not all crazy. He may have liked talking about sexuality, which was a part of his lectures. In my home state of Maine, one of his lectures was aborted by a mob of citizens too shocked to allow him to discuss sex in front of a mixed audience.

Remember, this was the early 19th century, when society was becoming more urban (and urbane?) and religions still tended toward severe chastity and restraint, proclaiming sex was only for procreation. I imagine many people found the crackers helpful if only as a placebo to curb their lustful urges and activities. Of course, combining graham crackers with chocolate and marshmallow and heating it up over a fire is far different than the pastor’s intention. Some might even say that s’mores are an aphrodisiac. Maybe Sylvester was on to something after all.

Almost a hundred years later, Nabisco, mass produced graham crackers with a different formula and even highlighted the “graham” taste with the addition of honey. You can see here that today’s honey grahams contain a mixed of enriched white flour and whole grain (graham) flour.
Sylvester Graham would not approve.

Today we have a multitude of graham crackers on our shelves and I don’t think any of them would meet Pastor Graham’s standards.

(Somehow I cut off the last couple paragraphs and pics in the first upload. Sorry)