Born 1867, in Aarau, Switzerland, the biologist and physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner was the first to push a high fruit and fiber diet, long before those words had crept into the breakfast-vocabulary of the world.
Bircher-Benner had studied medicine in Vienna, Berlin, and Zurich, where he finally gained his doctorate in 1891. Much of his work at the universities dealt with the theories of natural healing, hydrotherapy, and diet; he was convinced that man was a natural vegetarian, and thus that a good diet was the key to good health. Shortly afterwards, he opened up a small office in Zurich, and continued experimenting on his patients.
In 1900, in a lecture that will forever remain in the annals of nutritional breakfast, Dr. Bircher-Benner proposed to his colleagues his finest creation as the key to healthy living; that day, Muesli was born. This was to be the staple of his health plan, his health-food par excellence (as he called it), consisting only of seeds, grains, nuts, and fruit and served with either yoghurt or milk. He opened up a health spa and resort in 1902, where he fed his patients muesli twice a day, for breakfast and dinner, with only a light lunch of other, assorted foods. Milk and eggs were strongly encouraged, while bleached flour and sugar were wholly removed from the diet. Rounding out the treatment, patients were encouraged to take advantage of the spring-fed baths and the excellent gymnasium. Results were published from his journals as well as a magazine humbly named "Der Wendepunkt im Leben und Leiden" ("The turning point of life and troubles").
Nevertheless, life was not all wine and roses for Dr. Bircher-Benner. He was mocked by the general public for his radical nutritional theory, openly decried as a "blockheaded anarchist" who believed empirical evidence more than tradition and scholarly concensus. According to food-historian Albert Wirz, Muesli was essential in the process of feminization of breakfast; before Bircher-Benner, the first meal of the day had been the province of the patriarchy, consisting mainly of meat and potatoes. Thus Muesli reflects not only balanced nutrition, but the destruction of patriarchal structures and a crucial point in women's rights. With so much at stake, it is no wonder that Dr. Bircher-Benner faced such strong opposition.
Maximilian Bircher-Benner died on 24 January 1939, at his resort in Zurich; thus passed a man with what must have been the happiest bowel movements of our century. Something to think about, next time you eat breakfast.