VEGETARIAN FOOD BECOMING FAD AS HEALTH-PROMOTION A 100 YEARS AGO
( February 24, 2004, 14:15 @ NZZ Online )
It is 100 years since a Swiss doctor, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, opened a sanatorium in Zurich serving a special breakfast cure for a variety of illnesses.
His idea of a healthy start to the day was a mix of oats soaked in water, lemon juice, condensed milk and apples, all finished off with a sprinkling of grated hazelnuts. The original recipe for Birchermuesli has little in common with the creamy mixture that can be found on the breakfast buffet in just about every hotel in Switzerland.
Modern-day muesli adds a range of fresh and dried fruits, yogurt, milk or cream and comes in many varieties, depending on what fruits are in season. But what has not changed is the principle behind the recipe: a wholesome diet leads to improved health and well-being.
Light, air and raw vegetables
Contrary to beliefs commonly held at the beginning of the 20th century, Bircher-Benner thought that a combination of fresh air, light, exercise and, most importantly, a diet of raw vegetables, was essential for curing most ailments. He was convinced that his fellow doctors were underestimating the importance of nutrition as a means of ensuring good health. Bircher-Benner was unable to provide his peers with scientific evidence to support his theory, and his beliefs cost him his membership of the Swiss Medical Association.
With the financial support of his in-laws, he opened a private clinic in 1904, called Living Force, in the hills above Zurich. Convinced that his ideas rang true and eager to spread his message, the charismatic doctor began offering nutritional courses at his clinic. Within a few years, Living Force became extremely popular throughout Europe – in some circles it was even considered fashionable to have completed a course of therapy at the clinic. Some liked it more than others, but there was no denying that Bircher-Benner’s recipe for healthy living worked.
The German author, Thomas Mann, was treated at the clinic in 1909 and described it as a “hygienic prison” that nonetheless was able to rid him of his “stubborn constipation”.
After Bircher-Benner’s death in 1939, family members took over the day-to-day running of the clinic. The clinic closed in 1994 after having seen around 40,000 patients pass through its doors over the previous 90 years. The insurance group, Zurich Financial Services, now owns Living Force – which has been expanded to include a development centre and a hotel – offering guests a bowl of original Birchermuesli for breakfast.
Bircher-Benner would have probably frowned at the ready-made muesli that is offered in supermarkets throughout Europe, as he was a firm believer in using fresh ingredients. Surely the doctor had no idea that his breakfast creation would become one of the healthiest foods on offer at take-away counters, cafés and bakeries.
In fact Birchermuesli remains ahead of its time, as more and more fast food outlets offer meals that are high in nutrition and low in calories, to meet changing consumer demands.
( Swissinfo, based on an article previously published by NZZ )