Wednesday, February 15, 2012

All Blocked Up And No Place To Go

What does a yeast company do when women stop baking bread? They find another use for their product. Fleischmann’s, the company which first developed and patented cakes of yeast that produced rapidly-rising dough, found that shifting the goalposts could keep a company afloat. If you think that’s a mixed metaphor, you’re right. Mixing things around was all the rage in the 1930s, when numerous products we associate with one thing now were formerly associated with something completely different. Coca-Cola was a medicine before it was a drink; Listerine a surgical antiseptic before it killed bad breath. If a company couldn’t diversify its product, it had to diversify its application instead.

Fleischmann’s did this by creating and propagating a brand new ailment for which their product was — shocker! — the only antidote. “Intestinal Fatigue” sounds like it could be a real clinical problem, but isn’t. It caught on because it is something people felt they could diagnose themselves, and would be reluctant to go to the doctor about. Constipation tends to be a private matter. On the one hand they created a medical problem (sluggish, unclean intestinal tract), and on the other decried medicine (“If you want to get rid of Intestinal Fatigue in a natural way — harmlessly, without dosing yourself with medicines….”). Look how they made it sound important with capital letters and reassuring, by insisting it is “harmless,” yet make the condition sound dangerous by calling normal bowel contents “poison.” The addition of the alleged sanctification by “famous physicians” and the large photograph of a French doctor with a microscope all lend an air of authority that is in fact meaningless.

The headline, “Want to enjoy PERFECT HEALTH?” suggests that the reader is not already in perfect health. Since everyone gets “that tired feeling” merely by dint of being human, it is easy to point to a cause. Simple fatigue (probably caused by early rising and hard work) is given a new, specific locus of blame: the intestine, helpfully indicated on the odd map of the anatomy.

Ad from 1937

One wonders how humankind survived and flourished all these years without Fleischmann’s glorious elixir of health, their yeast. If anyone has actually used yeast to bake with, you will know that it does not smell appetizing. Imagine nibbling on two whole cakes of it every day! As it happens, normal bowel function can be maintained simply by eating fruit, which provides roughage and naturally occurring yeasts in its skin. Vitamin D and the bone-strengthening properties the yeast is supposed to provide can all be had with fresh milk and exercise in the open air.

Ad from 1932

Fleischmann’s caught a lucky break before the general public caught on to their scheme and stopped buying all that yeast — World War Two broke out, and they were able to provide a less-perishable dried yeast ideal for the army to use at the front.

Thus they switched again from focusing on women with fatigue — to men in fatigues.

Giving Your Meals The Touch Of Individuality, Standard Brands of California, 1937

From the Fleischmann's Yeast Hour, 1937
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