We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we
eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.
There was a time when American cooks (I was tempted to use the word
"housewives") purchased precious few fresh vegetables, opting instead to open a
can and proceed to boil away any nutrients which remained therein. I shudder to
think of "rubber chicken" and pork chops broiled until the consistency of shoe
leather. The person who saved us from all of that and whose work remains timely
today is Adelle Davis, nutritionist, writer, lecturer and consultant. Davis'
wildly popular book Let's Cook It Right contains a recipe for cooking
meats that's a sure-fire success; easy, and will render even a clod of chuck
as tender as sirloin steak. In fact, famed epicure and writer Craig
Claiborne "stole" a version of this recipe and applied it to the cooking of
prime rib and tenderloin.
Indeed, before Adelle Davis came along with her comprehensive, practical,
scientifically sound wisdom about nutrition, a "salad" was something in a
Jell-O mold perhaps containing a can of fruit salad. One was lucky if the
platter upon which said Jell-O mold was lined with a bit of iceberg lettuce.
Americans were boiling or frying all of the vitamins and minerals out of their
foods. Because of this, obesity and the diabetes and heart disease, among other ailments, that go along with that condition were skyrocketing. Physicians were peddling symptomatic remedies but, unlike Adelle Davis, failing to look at the cause.
A Farmer's Daughter
Daisy Adelle Davis was born in Lizton, Indiana on February 25, 1904. She was
the youngest of five sisters born to Harriet and Charles Eugene Davis. Sadly,
her mother became paralyzed after her birth and passed away seventeen months
later. This left her father and an elderly aunt to raise the girls. The family
had a farm, and they all worked hard. Daisy dropped her first name, giving the
reason that too many cows and pigs bore that name - so from a young age she was
Upon the formation of the 4-H Club in her area, (an agricultural
organization for young people) she joined up. Soon she was winning prizes for
her canning, baked goods and horticulture at state fairs. She stayed with 4-H
until she went off to college. She started at Purdue University, working as
well as attending classes. After two years she transferred to the University of
California at Berkeley, and earned her degree in dietetics in 1927.
Her interests first centered around hospital dietetics, however, interaction
with others was a source of great enjoyment for her so she began at Columbia
University Teachers' College. She spent about a year traveling in Europe, then
resumed her studies, this time at the University of Southern California. She
received her master science degree in biochemistry in 1939.
Davis married George Edward Leisey in 1943. She also associated
herself with the William E. Branch clinic in Hollywood, California. She set up a
private consulting practice and was sent patients by local physicians and
specialists. By the time her second book, Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit,
was published, she'd planned individual diets for more than 20,000 people
suffering from nearly every disease. She discussed the myriad health problems of
Americans, such as arthritis, cancer, and diabetes during a speech to a meeting
of cancer victims and friends in New York:
This is what's happening to us, to America, because
there is a $125 billion food industry who cares nothing about health
It was about this time that she became convinced that proper nutrition was
the pathway to good health. Anyone with a knowledge of the cookery of the 1920s
and 1930s can understand how flabbergasted she was that although the dinner
tables of America may have appeared to be groaning boards, Americans were
starving themselves, sometimes literally to death.
Ever the student, she took a course in writing so she could produce a
cookbook (the first of many) called Let's Cook It Right, published in
1947. This was the first of a series of best-selling books, all with the titles
beginning with the word "Let's." She began appearing on radio and television
programs (including five spots on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson) imploring anyone
who'd listen that a proper diet was the key to good health and longevity.
Her books were not mere personal reflections. She analyzed clinical studies
of humans and animals and used the results extensively in her books. By 1972,
Davis had sold 7 million copies of her books, and her advice was being embraced
by the general public, who took her seriously.
Her Literal, Literary Side "Trip"
Under the pen name "Jane Dunlap," she wrote a respected piece of psychedelic
literature, Exploring Inner Space: Personal Experiences Under LSD-25
which was published in 1961 by Harcourt, the same house that had published her
popular nutrition books. The book's dust jacket didn't reveal who "Jane Dunlap"
was, but did say that she'd been a volunteer in a supervised study of lysergic
acid diethylamide, or LSD-25 and that she'd recorded her visions and thoughts
under the influence of the powerful drug. Whoah, dude!
The Medical Community Pooh-Poohs "The Health Food Guru"
Time magazine, in December of 1972, called Davis "the high priestess
of a new nutrition religion ... [who] preaches a gospel that many
scientists and academicians find heretical." The Time article went on to
say that "millions regard her as an oracle where eating is concerned." They
described her diet as consisting of fruit, home-grown vegetables, raw milk, eggs
and cheese. She concocted a breakfast cereal from oatmeal, almonds and wheat
germ. They were astounded that she took vitamin supplements after each meal, to
make up for the nutrition missing or destroyed in her foods' preparation.
One Dr. Edward H. Rynearson, professor emeritus of the Mayo Graduate School
of Medicine at the University of Minnesota claimed to have studied her books
carefully, and said he found hundreds of errors of fact. The doctor said, "Any
physician or dietitian will find the book larded with inaccuracies, misquotation
and unsubstantiated statements."
Davis's estate was successfully sued by the parents of a little boy to whom
they gave potassium in the form of potassium chloride, per Davis's book
Let's Have Healthy Children. The boy was hospitalized and died later. It
turns out that Davis's research was indeed flawed; she was no doctor but based
her recommendation on a scientific study of infants with colic in which certain
of the subjects were sicker and the sicker children had in common a potassium
deficiency. However, giving potassium in high doses to a dehydrated infant could
cause cardiac arrest, which indeed occurred in this case. The award was $160,000. The book was revised by Dr.
Marshall Mandell and republished in 1981. It includes a stern admonition that
one's pediatritician should be the final arbiter of what should and should not
be given to ill youngsters.
One of Davis's greatest supporters was the late Dr. Linus
Pauling, that "Vitamin C" guy (who also, by the way, won two Nobel
Prizes). Their meeting was the seed that grew into a major article in Natural
Food and Farming magazine which juxtaposed Davis's teachings with recent
medical research. The article's conclusion was that "Today's scientific findings
both substantiate and expand upon a number of her teachings", and that "Today's
research shows that she was indeed ahead of her time... and largely right as
In 1998, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in a press
release opposing the many lawsuits being brought against people who question the
safety of our food supply, stated:
One of the pioneers of the movement toward healthier eating —
Adelle Davis — raised many food safety and health issues based on her own
research. Her views were not accepted by the scientific community at the
time. Now the weight of medical evidence — including former Surgeon General Koop's Report on Nutrition and Health — has vindicated her views.
Adelle Davis succumbed to bone cancer on May 31, 1974. Her legacy lives on at
the Adelle Davis foundation, which is working to advance research and education
in nutrition. They hope to issue her books on CD some time soon.
Davis, Adelle. Vitality Through Planned Nutrition. New York:
———. Let's Cook it Right. New York: Harcourt, 1947; revised 1962.
———. Let's Have Healthy Children New York: Harcourt, 1951; revised 1972.
———. Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit. New York: Harcourt, 1954
———. Let's Get Well. New York: Harcourt, 1965
A Nutrition-Oriented Website:
"Adelle Davis 100 Years Later:" http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ISW/is_250/ai_n6094202
The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: here
4-H Clubs Website: http://www.4husa.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=FAQ&file=index&myfaq=yes&id_cat=1
And yes; (oh, the shame, the shame): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adelle_Davis