A Brief History of Breakfast (or for God’s sakes it’s “just” a vitamin commercial)

As many of you may have be aware, there has been a great to-do about an Asian/Chinese Centrum commercial featuring Mr. Hiddleston. The uproar over this has been baffling to me since I don’t understand the un-comfortableness people are experiencing over a basically boring commercial (no offense to Mr. Hiddleston, but the Jaguar commercials I liked much better).

It’s really quite a boring bottle, but gets the point across.

Most of the comments I’ve seen on-line relate to the question of why vegetables were being served (along with a fried egg and some fresh fruit) for Breakfast. Well, visually, the vegetables and fruit were laid out and displayed to mimic the brands iconic rainbow design, but in such a way as to not be so blatantly obvious. Clearly the intent was to showcase that the same vitamins and minerals found in these food items are also found in the daily pill. It’s very simple advertising (and yes, I took a class on Modern Art in Advertising in Grad School-it was summer and I was bored).

A screen-shot of the infamous vegetable plate with fried egg. There are blueberries on the plate as well (not shown). I am just impressed with the heart shaped egg actually (yes, I know it’s a mold).

Basically, it’s a pretty decent commercial, a bit boring and the only saving grace is the fact that Mr. Hiddleston is in it. But if you’ve ever seen commercials for the Asian markets (China, Japan, India, etc) that feature Western stars, they tend to be weird by Western standards. I believe it’s because people in the west truly don’t comprehend that there are more people who are Asian and of Asian decent in the world and yes, we’d like products featuring stars we like catered to us. Advertisements in general can be awkward and strange.

Yes, that’s Bob Hope endorsing a soda that no one has ever heard of. Hollywood has a history of endorsing products.

Nicole Kidman for Omega Watches. This advertisement was only placed in Asian countries and in Asian magazines.

While this is all well and interesting (not really), I want to address the issue many people are really having a hard time with, which is having vegetables for breakfast. Breakfast is, I think, historically a very interesting meal to look at because what was once eaten has changed over the years due to shifts in society and economy. Back in the time of Jane Austen (and generally this applies to the Georgian Era well into the Victorian Era in terms of food offered, not necessarily the times), people (not the servants) woke up before 8AM, had a cup of tea, ale, or hot chocolate and a piece of toast (maybe two). This was done in their nightwear, usually women would be wearing a bedgown/robe and men would be wearing a Banyan or Dressing Gown. They then would spot clean, get dressed and do their hair. They then exercised (walking, rode horses), wrote letters, gathered flowers (if they were into wanting fresh flowers in the home), practiced piano playing (specifically this refers to Jane herself) and then sat down to Breakfast at about 10AM.


Le Bon Genre 106, 1817 (Doggy Meal is the basic French to English translation of the piece); Courtesy of the British Museum; this is meant to be satire, but one gets the general idea of what a typical Regency Era meal for just family may look like.

'A Brighton Breakfast' or 'Morning Comforts' by Charles   Williams

A Brighton Breakfast or Morning Comforts (Oct 1802); drawn by Charles Williams depicting Mrs. Fitzherbert (Prinny’s illegal Catholic Wife, my ancestor by marriage Maria Weld) and Lady Lade (one of Prinny’s mistresses at the time). Courtesy of the Regency Town House website

A typical Georgian & Regency breakfast (remember, this is being served around 10AM) may include eggs, kidneys & liver (I’m not a fan of organ meat, so bleh), various cold cuts or chops leftover from a previous meal (typically cold chicken or turkey, game birds, beef, ham, etc). Kippers or some kind of fish (this tended to be seasonal and more typical for homes along a coast or access to a constant source of fresh water, so think Lyme Regis, Brighton, Bath, but not necessarily London), game pies, tongue (bleh), and perhaps jellied eel (again, bleh). More tea and hot chocolate was served, though Prinny and other Dandies at the time preferred ale (alcohol was available to drink 24/7 at this time because water was not safe to drink). Ale and Stout were also reported to be a healthy beverage to consume for breakfast, so women were encouraged to drink it to help encourage fertility (seriously, I am not kidding here). Cakes spiced with things like Caraway seeds, Ginger, citrus, fresh or preserved fruits, honey and saffron were typically seen. Hot rolls, toast, butter, preserves, French Brioche (particularly posh) along with fried potatoes and any fresh seasonal fruit was served as well. While no research (meaning my ongoing 20+ year one) has yet turned up any evidence of milk or lemon barely water being drunk at this time, I have come across both being touted for invalids and children, so I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibilities to see them made available for those that wished for them (especially if children were involved). This was mean to be a fairly relaxing, communal, and most likely lasted close to an hour as people came to eat at their leisure, which must have been a nightmare for the servants.

The Full English (well, one example of it anyways). There are many variations of it in the UK, but there are at least 2 types of meat, beans, tomatoes, toast, eggs and sometimes mushrooms (some places have potatoes instead of mushrooms). Tomatoes are also usually fried, though raw wouldn’t bother me.

Sometime in the mid Victorian Era (late 1850s to early 1860s), breakfast not only meant the Georgian/Regency meal as stated above, but a newer, smaller hot meal. The English Breakfast Society dates the Full English to the early 1800s, yet I’ve never been able to find any evidence of this. While I do believe it evolved from the Georgian/Regency meal (which did offer a variety of meats, eggs, and toast), tomatoes were NOT widely eaten at that point in time. Tomatoes were seen as poisonous and the only way people consumed them was they had to be cooked, preferably in a soup format and possibly jellied IF one wished for a cold remove for a dinner (remove is a very fancy terms for a side dish). The closest I’ve seen to a Full English is from Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management (it’s free on Kindle and yes, I’ve read it):

Broiled fish, such as mackerel, whiting, herrings, dried haddocks, &c.; mutton chops and rump-steaks, broiled sheep’s kidneys, kidneys à la maître d’hôtel, sausages, plain rashers of bacon, bacon and poached eggs, ham and poached eggs, omelets, plain boiled eggs, oeufs-au-plat, poached eggs on toast, muffins, toast, marmalade, butter, &c. &c.

This is her description of hot food items for breakfast. She does mention the use of cold meats, including tongue, potted meats, cold game pies, as well as bread, sweet rolls, and pastries. Typical breakfast fare for inns, pubic-houses and for the working class (servants too) consisted of eggs, bacon or ham, bread, butter, and ale.

Kedgeree is considered a typical British Breakfast dish (courtesy of the BBC)

Now, one item I have not discussed yet is Kedgeree. Now, I’m American, but I am also half-Desi and I love this dish. I have made this dish and variations that are more traditional (as in Desi traditional) when I was living on my own in Grad School. For modern eaters of this dish, it contains rice, smoked haddock (I prefer Salmon, but Tuna is also considered acceptable), hard boiled eggs, parsley, butter or cream. Some UK recipes insist on adding curry powder (which is a very British thing; curry for us Desis means it contains tomatoes), and sultanas (raisins; like potato salad, just no). This modern dish dates to about 1790 from a recipe book by Stephana Malcolm of Scotland and is believed to have been created by Scottish Militia who missed the spices and food of India once they returned home. Traditional Kedgeree (Khichri or Kishri or Khichdi) dates to 1340CE, but is probably much older. Ibn Battuta wrote in 1340CE of a dish he enjoyed and referred to as Kishri of moong dal cooked with rice (basically, lentils and rice most likely topped with butter because yes, Indian people did know how to make butter).

Masoor Dal (Red Lentil) Khichri. There are many recipes and variations of Khichri out there. Notice that vegetables play a key factor here. Yes, VEGETABLES for BREAKFAST.

The oldest known written recipe for Khichri dates from around 1590 CE and remains extremely popular in the Gurajat region of India where it’s often served with a spiced yogurt called Kadhi or Raitia (they are different dishes actually, but I’ve eaten it with Raitia, so don’t “at” me Desi brothers and sisters). Fish is and was probably added along the coastlines of India, where fish and seafood is widely eaten. Eggs are usually not part of the dish, traditionally, but I’ve added some boiled eggs on occasion. I’ve also added Paneer instead. Like I stated before, there are so many variations of this dish in the Desi community, most can find one they like. Or go with the UK version.

Seal of the East Indian Company (the British one as there was a Dutch one too). Courtesy of North Central College (Naperville, IL)

Now Kedgeree (yes, I’ve gone back to the UK spelling) is never mentioned in Mrs. Beeton’s book and is never acknowledged as being a dish served during the time of Jane Austen. For some reason, it seems to magically appear around the 1830s, disappear,then reappear in the 1880s. But briefly and only in passing (I am referring to extant novels). It is mentioned in Evelyn’s Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted (pubslihed in 1945) and Mary Wesley’s Camomile Lawn (published in 1984); both books are cited by Americans who blog about wanting to try Kedgeree because it’s mentioned in these two British novels (they are also often shocked at the ingredients and typically don’t like it).

An illustration depicting what a Georgian/Regency Scottish Officer would be wearing (1780s-1820s). We can thank the wife of one of these gents for writing down the first UK recipe for Kedgeree. Courtesy of Brown University (Rhode Island).

This was probably a dish that most men in the military brought back with them (because, as we should now, the East Indian Company sent Army men to India, China, Japan (and more) for close to 300 years (December 1600 to June 1874). Because Austen had no relations involved in that venture, it is possibly she never heard of it (her three brothers joined during the Napoleonic Wars-two in the Navy and one in the Oxford Militia). Tough I do find it odd that it is not mentioned by Sir Walter Scott (considering the UK version comes from Scotland). Oh well. Personally, I am fairly certain Colonel Brandon, Sir John Middleton, Colonel Foster, and Captain Wentworth would have heard of it and eaten it. Definitely Admiral Croft must be included in that list.

Corn Flakes

This brings our breakfast journey right to Battle Creek, Michigan (I’ve got family near there, no lie) and the Kellogg Brothers. Dr. Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist and hard core vegetarian. I do mean hard core. He was fine with dairy being consumed, but not meat, not eggs, no fish, etc. Hopefully you get my point. He ran a sanitarium (Dr. John Harvey Kellogg) and did some pretty shady crap. He tortured and trained a wild wolf to turn away from the instinct to eat meat as “proof” man could curb his instincts for consuming flesh. He believed in using masturbatory devices to curb unhealthy sexual activities between married couples (vibrators people); he firmly believed sex should only take place to produce children. Any “urges” had to be taken care of scientifically. Basically, he was nuts himself (see the 1994 film Road to Wellville as it’s surprisingly accurate). His brother, Will, on the other hand, was more practical. While also an Adventist, he wasn’t too keen on the whole vegetarian thing, but he was into philanthropy. Will noticed that rich people ate eggs and meat for breakfast while the poor tried to survive on oatmeal, farina, gruel (you get the point) which filled them up, but didn’t provide enough nutrients. So he came up with corn flakes, which is just toasted flakes of corn mush. It was cheap, it was filing, and because you ate it with milk, you were getting some protein. Post Cereals (now known as General Mills) copied this concept with their own version, but added sugar.

How many of us grew up with the concept of this being the normal breakfast?

This really did change the landscape for breakfast. Think about all the cereals that have come out of this concept. We have cereals made from corn, wheat, oats, and rice. And yes, I know I did not mention pancakes, waffles, etc because I don’t have time for that and I am focusing on just the concept of breakfast, not a book on the history of it. Eggs generally were eaten on weekends (at least, for me growing up) because cereal was faster to prepare.

Vegetable Stuffed Omelette from Betty Crocker’s website. No, I’m not kidding. This is an actual recipe. Chosen mainly to highlight that, yes, we do eat vegetables for breakfast.

This brings me back around to people freaking out about that Hiddleston commercial. If vegetables are in a quiche, an omlette, or a quinoa breakfast bowl, no one is bothered by it. We accept that it’s perfectly fine to have vegetables for breakfast, but only if it conforms to certain standards (meaning Western standards). But what if the commercial was done for a Desi audience and the dish he prepared was a traditional Khichri? Most people in the UK would probably recognize it as being similar to a Kedgeree and wouldn’t be bothered by it. Americans would still have a fit because it’s rice being eaten for breakfast (rice, of course, is ALWAYS Basmati; that Texas grown “Texati” stuff is disgusting). I’ve worked with people from Mexico and have had eggs smothered in beans and Cholula Hot Sauce (which I highly recommend! The beans were cooked in mole sauce and onions).

On the left is regular brown rice. On the right is brown Basmati rice.

Breakfast is simply  the first meal we eat to break our fast after sleeping. There is no wrong food to eat. There is no right food to eat. I can tell you that as while in College (and Grad Schools), I ate things like grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, Khichri, oatmeal, eggs (lots of eggs, which I still do), portabello mushrooms, ice cream (I’m an adult), cereal, beans on toast (Heinz of course as I am not a savage), shami kabobs, tuna sandwiches, lox on bagels with smear (ask your Jewish or NYC friends), and on occasion, pancakes or waffles.

This is what I had today for Breakfast: homemade Paneer Jalfrezi on a bed of spinach. Followed by an apple (Envy variety! Delicious) and tea.

So yes, I have eaten vegetables for breakfast. I’ll probably continue to do so in some fashion the rest of my life. It’s really not that weird of a concept. I didn’t think the commercial was weird in showing that. FYI, the shuffling people say occurs near the end? Most likely slipping shoes on. Most Asians take shoes off at the door and put the on when they leave. This is not a creepy or weird thing. It keeps floors much cleaner. I really do think people need to learn about other cultures so things like this won’t be found to be offensive or awkward in the future.

Tomorrow? I think I’ll have some vegetables with my eggs topped with cheese. And a glass of milk. Then again, I may have a protein smoothie.