"Blackstrap Molasses (and Wheat Germ Bread)"

Black strap molasses and wheat germ bread,
Makes you live so long you wish you were dead,
Add some yogurt and you’ll be well fed,
With black strap molasses and the wheat germ bread.

A comedy tune spoofing the brand-new "health food" craze that was enjoying popularity among progressive-thinkers in the 1940s and 1950s, and popularized by film and television personalities who swore by the new, less-than-delectable regimens. Parents of baby-boomers and even baby-boomers themselves may recall the popularity of this novelty tune. Suffice it to say that the song particularly delighted the meat and potatoes crowd, who'd use it to taunt eaters of any foodstuff that didn't fit the "norm" of the day.

Composers: Carmine Harris/Marilou Harrington
Release Date: 1951

The tune enjoyed great popularity following its introduction on the television program "Here's Groucho." The verses were sung by Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, Jimmy Durante, and Jane Wyman (President Ronald Reagan's first wife).

The song's lyrics rhymed and spoofed everything from whole-grain bread to yoghurt, sparing no ingredient now included in the fad diets. (By spoofing the diets, stars Marx et. al. were also poking fun at how seriously their show-biz colleagues took the decidedly unconventional victuals.) The general public would utilize the song to poke fun at friends and relatives who toiled over their blenders and took horrible-tasting potions in the name of healthy living since the late 1930s.

The Man They Were Making Fun Of

So controversial was this new diet, that one of Dr. Gayelord Hauser's guidebooks to healthy living, Look Younger, Live Longer (1951) caused concern amongst authorities at the United States Food and Drug Administration (the "FDA"). The FDA seized two shipments of the book and jars of the molasses, on the basis that the health benefits claimed were invalid, or at least exaggerated. The title of the book arguably makes the subliminal statement "read this and find the Fountain of Youth!"

Hauser's greatest proponent was actress Greta Garbo, a friend and loyal follower. Jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong was also outspoken about the benefits of Hauser's diets and potions.

Hauser gave seminars to groups of socialites and associations like the Daughters of the American Revolution in hotel ballrooms demonstrating how to make his health drinks. Years later, the Vita-Mix company would sell their blenders directly at county fairs, expositions, and spas utilizing a similar technique. Hauser would put all manner of awful ingredients including raw eggs, shell and all, Brewer's Yeast, and after pureeing them produced a beverage that was smooth and palatable (to some).

The Already Strange Bird Accused of "Quack, Quack!"

The German-born Bengamin Gayelord Hauser stopped calling himself an M.D. after an investigation by the American Medical Association found his credentials to be questionable. Nonetheless, that didn't stop him from continuing to promote his ideas and publish his books. In addition to the book mentioned earlier, three different health tonics being sold by Hauser were seized and taken off the market by the FDA after being found to have no heath benefits whatsoever. One concoction even contained ingredients known to be harmful (senna, bladderwrack, buckthorn bark).

Like so many health food gurus, he was charismatic, youngish and had a winning smile. Among the claims that made practitioners of conventional nutrition and medicine pooh-poohed were: "if there is a food shortage in the U.S., chew your food for half an hour, you'll get more out of it," lack of calcium, he claimed, causes "fear of the dark, nail biting and gossiping. Arguably his wildest claim was that he cured himself of "tuberculosis of the hip" by eating 36 lemons daily for two weeks. In his favor, however, he did promote leaving skins on vegetables, which has indeed been proven beneficial as the skins of potatoes, beets, carrots, apples and other fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins in the skins (mind you, this does not apply to citrus fruits).

Despite promoting iodine and vitamin B complex as a method for returning the color to women's hair, one of his sponsors, interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, sported a coiffeur that was snow white. It seemed that government criticism of his methods, potions and qualifications only strengthened his support among the rich and famous.

Hauser died in 1985 at age 89. His name is still used to market health and vitamin products.

More Credible Peers

A nutritionist named Adelle Davis began publishing cookbooks with instructions with regard to retaining vitamins and minerals usually lost to over-cooking. Davis was taken quite seriously and her books hit the best-seller lists. Her Let's Cook It Right remains a great reference to utilizing cooking techniques, rather than exotic ingredients, to provide a nutritious diet. Consult that book for a recipe for cooking beef and other red meats that will astound you with the results. One can take inexpensive, usually tough cuts of meat and using a special long-time, low-temperature process turn out meats that are tender and perfectly done every time.

Dr. Linus Pauling was a proponent of Vitamin C. He claimed to take 300 times the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of the vitamin, and told his followers that massive doses (in grams, not milligrams) could cure anything from the common cold to cancer. Although he had his critics, Pauling, a brilliant chemist holds the distinction of two Nobel Prize wins.

NOTE: There were two other tunes written with the title "Black Strap Molasses," but this is the only noteworthy one, the others having drifted into obscurity.


The Mad Music Archive: http://www.themadmusicarchive.com/song_details.aspx?SongID=2048 (Accessed 2/11/09)

All Music Guide: http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=17:160824 (Accessed 2/11/09)

"Find Your Best Diet for 2008" by Alex Hutchinson, CanWest News Service, January 2, 2008 http://www.canada.com/topics/bodyandhealth/story.html?id=18d5a2cc-7acd-4bb9-9749-11b7fc8ea322&p=2 (Accessed 2/11/09)

Gaelord Hauser Products Website: http://www.modernfearn.com/ (Accessed 2/11/09)

"Garbo's Gaelord" (unattributed), Time Magazine, February 16, 1942 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,766416,00.html (Accessed 2/11/09)