Not by Bread Alone:

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Not by Bread Alone:

The Principles of Human Nutrition

Book excerpt

By: Harvey Washington Wiley

Date: 1915

Source: Harvey Washington Wiley. Not by Bread Alone: The Principles of Human Nutrition. New York: Hearst's International Library, 1915.

About the Author: Harvey Washington Wiley served as the commissioner of the Bureau of Chemistry—the precursor to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—from 1905 to 1912. A trained medical doctor and chemist, Wiley was a pioneer in the study of sugars and chemical preservatives in food. Credited with authoring the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, Wiley's work during the previous two decades on food preservatives and sugar helped him in passing the act. Wiley resigned from his position as FDA commissioner in 1912 to work with Good Housekeeping magazine; he developed the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," a continuation of his work in nutrition and consumer protection.


The Progressive Movement moved from the nineteenth into the twentieth century with a strong faith in scientific progress as the answer to social, moral, medical, economic, and public health problems. The Industrial Revolution had brought great economic strengths to the country as a whole, but with these strengths came problems, such as overcrowding in urban areas, disease, industrial accidents and deaths, and extreme poverty. As cities and towns applied progressive reforms to such public health and social matters as prostitution, sanitation, child labor, and women's health, scientists like Harvey Washington Wiley applied new techniques and ideas to the human condition as a whole.

Because many Americans equated science with progress, an industrial or scientific approach to any problem or issue was generally considered superior. From the development of artificial baby milk formulas to patent medicines that claimed to cure a wide range of ailments, any product or procedure that was called "scientific" was "progressive" and therefore better. However, critics began to expose problems with mechanical food production, labor systems in factories, and other complications that were created by scientific processes; Upton Sinclair's novel from this era, The Jungle, is a scathing indictment of the meat-packing industry, its lax health standards, and the role that wage slavery and immigrant exploitation played in American industry's economic success.

Harvey Washington Wiley gained fame for his experiments in feeding Borax and other chemical preservatives to humans. His famous "poison squad" of fourteen volunteers ingested Borax at every meal for months on end (they also ingested chemicals such as formaldehyde and benzoates during subsequent experiments) to test the effects of such dangerous chemicals on the body. Wiley's experiments continued for more than five years, and revealed to the public that not only were these chemicals harmful, but that restrictions on manufacturers in using these chemicals in foods and tonics was mandatory. As a result of Wiley's work, basic reforms, such as food labeling, banning of certain poisons, and placing the burden of proof for the use of certain chemicals on the manufacturers, became commonplace.

Wiley's experiments and pro-regulation views angered manufacturers, but a surprising ally emerged in the pure food and drug movement—women. Although women in the United States did not yet have the federal vote, Wiley's pure food movement appealed to mothers and wives who sought, in the interest of scientific efficiency and progress, to feed their families better, purer food.

In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, and it became law in 1907. Wiley's work did not stop at legal progress; in an era of efficiency engineers and perfection through education, Wiley continued to author books for experts in chemistry, but also wrote for the general reading public. Not By Bread Alone is a treatise on the need for better appreciation of the role of proper eating habits, basic nutrition, and the role of dietetics in overall health.


The greatest industry in any community is eating. This is not an industry confined to a particular class of people; it embraces every individual of the community. There are no child-labor laws regulating this industry. Infants engage in it immediately after birth. Old people continue the industry to the brink of the grave. The magnitude of the industry is not appreciated as it should be. If we count the time spent in eating alone, it is of considerable extent. If one should live sixty years, which is considerably above the average, and eat as he should eat according to the principles of Fletcher and his school, he would spend almost three hours a day at the table. This is one-eighth of his life, and in sixty years would amount to seven years and a half. This is probably an exaggerated time compared with actual work at the table, but including the time of preparing for the dinner in a proper way and the time consumed in a proper way in social intercourse at the table it may be regarded as approximately correct.


The time spent at the table, however, is not by any means all the time spent in this great industry. We must have something to eat and have it properly prepared. There is no way of getting exact data on this point, but it is probable that after reaching the age of service the average man or woman spends four hours a day either in getting something to eat or in preparing it to be eaten. In forty-four years of adult life one-sixth of the time may properly be ascribed to these efforts. In round numbers, seven years and a half of the allotted time of adult life in sixty years of living, namely, forty-four years, is devoted to getting food and preparing it to be eaten. But this is not all of the time which we devote to this industry. Sleep is intimately connected with nutrition. It is during sleep that the numberless carpenters and masons that build the body and repair its waste are chiefly busy. During sleep new particles are built into the body and the old particles are taken out, thus completing the work which was commenced at the table. We should sleep eight hours a day. One-third of our time is spent at complete rest or asleep. In sixty years this would amount to twenty years. Add that to the fifteen years which we spend sitting at the table and getting something to eat and preparing it to be eaten, and we have a total of thirty-five years of the sixty years we live devoted to this one great industry.

It is consequently a matter which should engage our closest attention. We should be trained, if possible, to engage in this industry with the maximum of skill and benefit. Do we do this? No. Here is one great industry in which there are few skilled laborers. Everyone is a common day laborer with no idea of the nature of the business in which he is engaged and with no special skill to perform the duties of that business with effectiveness and benefit. Not being skilled laborers, nor experts, we may expect to draw the minimum salary. That minimum salary is paid to us in diminished years of life and in diminished efficiency while we live.

It is true that there are now quite a large number of persons who have made the subject of dietetics a study. The number of persons who are engaging in this study is daily increasing.

Instead of being a mere theory, the tenets of nutrition are now assuming scientific form and accuracy. One-third of a century ago there was probably not a medical college in the country that taught any scientific theory of diet. Today one of the armaments of the physician most prized is to know something of the philosophy of foods. All over the country there are established schools of domestic science which, among other things, teach the principles of human nutrition. Even in the public schools our children are beginning to be taught something of that which is most essential to their welfare, namely, how to live. We are beginning to realize that the feeding of man is of more consequence than the feeding of pigs or steers. Yet there are a hundred people in this country today who know how to feed pigs and steers where there is one who knows how to feed children or grown people.


Wiley's book is a call-to-arms for progressives and the public to focus on nutrition as a public health matter. The "Gospel of Efficiency" that was part of the Progressive Movement comes through in Wiley's detailed breakdown of the hours that should be devoted to various activities: eating, sleeping, and seeking and preparing food, for example. This meticulous deconstruction is meant to show the reader, through scientific precision, the logic of the author's argument, and therefore a need for action.

As chemists made great strides from the 1880s to the 1930s, isolating vitamins, glucose, fats, and understanding metabolic processes, Wiley wished to connect laboratory discoveries with the daily diet of Americans. Not By Bread Alone called not only for a change in the average American's food consumption and preparation habits, but also for widespread education in medical colleges on the role of proper nutrition in improving public health.

Wiley authored more than seventy books during his lifetime, many of which detailed his studies on food additives, such as saccharin, and their harmful effects on the body. Wiley's legacy extended through the 1930s with the passage of the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which took up the Pure Food and Drugs Act and strengthened it, protecting consumers from deadly additives, such as formaldehyde and sulfanilamide, and helping to shape the food industry and the American diet.



McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent; The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920. New York: Free Press, 2003.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: The Jungle Publishing Co., 1906.

Web sites

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "The Story of the Laws Behind the Labels. Part I: 1906 Food and Drugs Act." 〈∼lrd/history1.html〉 (accessed November 20, 2005).