Battle Creek, California
By Charles Perry
A hundred years ago Los Angeles was becoming famous as the capital of a new school of extreme diet in competition with Battle Creek, Mich., which had always been premised on the goodness of grain (it was the home not only of breakfast cereals but forgotten magical foods like Protose). Our local school was all about fresh fruits and vegetables, said to be glowing with vitality, and our diet gurus warned that grain was actually dangerous.
But Battle Creek had made an attempt to establish itself here, and on Aug. 31, 1913, the Los Angeles Times ran a report on its Glendale venue by one of its editors, Eugene Brown. This is the sort of comedy writing the Times often featured in the days when newspapers had discovered that people enjoyed columns and not just news. Today it reads like a stand-up comic’s routine on forgotten topics. You can supply your own rim-shot accent after the punch lines.
Before they had much of anything here but climate they used to say that people came to the Southwest to escape either the undertaker or the sheriff. [Ba-ding!] When I took the train for California, I dodged both. The burial expert was so mad about it that he afterward sent me a postal card with a message that he would never speak to me again.
When I reached Glendale I had to go to an insanatorium where they train people to eat without the use of a knife – to put aside the rare roast beef of old England and take on the refreshing hay and oats of the livery stable. It seems that the cutlets and hamburger I had been acquiring since childhood days had merely put a crimp in my liver and that it required a change of fodder to keep me on the poll list [of registered voters — living, that is].
At first I didn’t know whether to become a vegetarian or a Presbyterian. The difference, as I understood it, is that one believes in infant damnation and the other has no eye teeth. [Ba-ding!]
As I had neither offspring nor eyeteeth, I left it to chance to decide. We pulled straws and I became a vegetarian …. Now, instead of stopping on my homeward way to buy a three-inch slab of raw, red porterhouse, my wife telephones me to drop in at the feed store and get a nickel’s worth of grated peanuts. Then, with the aid of a jar of buttermilk and some sage tea, we indulge in a debauch which sometimes keeps me up till 8 o’clock at night.
* * *
[Brown visits the Glendale branch of the Battle Creek treatment center, which featured electrotherapy and other odd treatments as well as diet.]
There are about seventeen species of electric treatments, ranging from the sublime to the tickle us. [Ba-ding!] In one you can sit in a lovely steam-heated doghouse studded with electric bulbs till it looks like Aladdin’s cave. You hold a horseshoe magnet in each hand while they shoot about 1960 volts of current juice through your perspiring system. They stew you in boiling water for awhile and then rub you down with a bag of chopped ice – just to show you that it can be done.
* * *
That day we dined on whitefish made of Protose and a pot roast built up of Nuttolene. These are the distinctive staples – the ham and steak – of the vegetarian. Protose looks and acts as if it were made of sawdust, tapioca and hair oil, but it isn’t [ba-ding!] and when it is shaped up and stuffed with toothpicks for a backbone it makes a lovely substitute for black bass or planked shad.
* * *
My appetite was restored and I fought for my Protose and Nuttolene as jackals scrap for their prey. Also I find that it is possibly easier to be a vegetarian than a Presbyterian.
But I make no infallible profession. When I want turkey, I take turkey, and when I crave oats, why, oats it is. When I am on the road and find the best hotel and the landlord both full I can wander over the Palace livery stable, where there is good refreshment for man or beast – either or both of which, or it, I am, as the case may be. With a box stall and a noggin of feed, what more may be asked?
[Ba-ding! Am I right? Am I right?]