Michael Kideckel

  • Fellowship year:2017-2018
  • University: Columbia University
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: Fresh from the Factory: Breakfast Cereal, Natural Foods, and the Maketing of Reform 1890-1920
  • This dissertation uses the breakfast cereal industry's advertising of "natural food" as a case study to explain the industrial roots of American ideas about nature. At the turn of the twentieth century, advertisers and manufacturers developed sophisticated arguents to demonstrate that industry could coexist with and even improve nature. Cereal advertisers, manufacturers, and distributors made frequent contributions to publications that reached millions of people; they ranked among the most prolific nature writers of their generation.
    The dissertation explores how the idea of "returning to nature" developed alongside the national system of industrial food production. As a history of environmental thought, therefore, it is also a material story about the creation of a supply, production, and distribution chain for packaged food. This project considers the strategic reasons for branding products as natural, the logistics of running a "natural food" company, and the reception of company messaging by both consumers and professionals who competed with cereal companies for authority about about health, nature, and God. Ultimately, the project offers new insight into progressive-era reform with a lesson for the present: modern environmentalism is impossible to understand without the history of corporate America.