Cooking as Medicine: A Recipe for Health

Exhibit poster with mid-century style design; text reads: "Cooking as Medicine: A Recipe for Health, Exhibit from Historical Collections & Archives, OHSU Library in the BICC, January-April 2022"

This exhibit examines cooking through the lens of medicine, incorporating materials from as early as the 1200s to as recent as the 1980s. Using items such as home medical manuals, treatises on nutrition and diet, and publications by OHSU authors, the exhibit traces changing historical perspectives on food, cookery and health to help us better understand the medicine and nutritional education of today.

Curated by Steve Duckworth, University Archivist.

Home medical manuals

For centuries, cooking and medicine have been intertwined. Yet, when medicine began to be studied and practiced more professionally, it started to move out of the hands of the “common people” and be treated as a more of a luxury. In the 18th and 19th centuries, countless home medical manuals were printed to share medicinal knowledge, both factual and folk, with people in a way that was accessible and useful. In an era of increased interest in advancing knowledge and popular education, medical manuals became almost as ubiquitous as the Bible.

Buchan, William, and J. G. Norwood. A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines. Rev. and enl., with the addition of a vegetable materia medica, pointing out the virtues, preparations, and doses of our most valuable native medicinal plants, and an appendix by J. G. Norwood. Cincinnati: James, 1841. [HOM RC81 B91 1841] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 317)

First published in 1769, Domestic Medicine, written by Scottish physician William Buchan (1729-1805) was written as a self-help manual for those that lacked accessibility to or the ability to pay for professional medical services. The book remained in publication until 1871, with a total of 142 editions published in English alone, along with many more editions in a wide variety of other languages. 

Buchan was committed to putting medicine and health into the hands of every person, though in practice the manuals were geared towards a literate middle-class audience. In addition to diet, Buchan also stressed the importance of exercise and fresh air, often calling for those with more sedentary lives to exercise outside or take up gardening. 

The book made Buchan unpopular with his medical colleagues as he criticized the profession for maintaining secrecy over their practices. He also used the book to advocate for better public health through housing, sanitation, water for bathing, and inoculation for smallpox, though some recommendations in the book are also rooted in eugenic ideas. The page highlighted in this exhibit calls for treating the pain of hemorrhoids, known as blind piles, with a “poultice of leeks fried in butter.”

South, John Flint.Household Surgery; or, Hints on Emergencies. London: Cox, 1847. [HOM RC87 S72 1847] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 26)

John Flint South (1797-1882) was an English surgeon and educator. This volume is structured to teach the building blocks of medical care to those unable to attain it professionally, with a special focus towards people who live “in the country” or are otherwise far removed from trained medical personnel. The book opens with lists of supplies that should be kept on hand, noting which of those a city dweller should have compared to the increased needs of those in rural settings. Subsequent chapters each focus on one foundational need, such as poultices, lotions and washes, liniments, ointments, plasters, etc. The remainder of the book focuses on treating specific disorders and injuries. The Mustard Liniment highlighted in this exhibit calls for mixing mustard and turpentine for the treating of lumbago and chilblains.

Gunn, John C., and J. H. Jordan. Gunn's New Domestic Physician, or, Home Book of Health: A Guide for Families, Pointing Out in Familiar Language, Free from Medical Terms, the Latest Approved Methods of Treating the Diseases of Men, Women and Children, and for Using the Best New Remedies, Including Medicinal Plants. Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys, 1858. [HOM RC81 G97 1857] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 673)

John Gunn (circa 1800-1863) was born in Georgia and practiced medicine in Virginia and Tennessee. He first published Domestic Medicine, or Poor Man’s Friend in Knoxville in 1830, and by 1839, one hundred thousand copies of the book had been sold. The New Domestic Physician, published first in 1857, revised and expanded the contents of the original “into a cheap, convenient form, a useful Family Book for the poor and the afflicted, in plain language, free from medical terms.” It aimed to spread “suitable knowledge among the people” in an effort to spare them from becoming the “prey of the villainous quack.” The last recorded edition of the work – the 234th edition – was published in 1920. “An admirable remedy in Cholera,” highlighted in this exhibit, can be found in this mixture of black pepper, table salt, water, and cider vinegar.

Chase, A. W. Dr. Chase's Third, Last and Complete Receipt Book and Household Physician : or Practical Knowledge for the People from the Life-Long Observations of the Author, Embracing the Choicest, Most Valuable and Entirely New Receipts in Every Department of Medicine, Mechanics, and Household Economy : Including a Treatise on the Diseases of Women and Children, in Fact, the Book for the Million, with Remarks and Explanations Which Adapt It to the Every-Day Wants of the People, Arranged in Departments and Most Copiously Indexed. Memorial ed. Detroit, Mich.: Dickerson, 1889. [HOM TX153 C487d 1889] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 76)

Dr. A. W. Chase (1817-1885) was born in Cayuga County, NY in 1817 and didn’t study medicine until he was almost 40, attending the Eclectic Institute of Cincinnati. He self-published his works, which were largely collections of household remedies, recipes, and domestic tips that he collected from people he met during his travels as a physician, salesman, and author. His three books became best sellers in the U.S. and could be found in most households; his first book was published in 1866 and a second in 1873. This third publication was completed in 1885, just 2 months before Chase died and was published as a “Memorial Edition” in 1887. For earache, Chase suggests a cure, highlighted in the exhibit, that calls for cooking onion slices wrapped in tobacco leaves, and then squeezing out the juice and pouring it into the ear.

Treatises and guides

In addition to home medical manuals, many other publications existed to bring medicinal knowledge to professionals and amateurs alike. This set of materials includes a wide variety of these works, as well as images that stress the importance of nutritional education and a curious artifact whose simple contents claim to be somewhat of a cure-all for the many ails of the human body. 

Garrison, Fielding H., Francis R. Packard, and Frederic W. Goudy Collection. The School of Salernum; Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum. Translated by John Harington. New York: P.B. Hoeber, 1920. [WA11.1 R335s 1920] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 98)

The city of Salernum (now Salerno, Italy) was once famous as a health resort, but the origin of the medical school itself is obscure. It is generally believed to have grown out of a gathering of sick but wealthy patients around the 7th century A.D. Many years later, around the middle of the 11th century, the school manifested its literary activity.

Many editions of the school’s “regimen” existed throughout the “civilized world,” with some manuscripts dating back to as early as 1313, but the poem itself is claimed to have been originally created as a “work of medical advice” for Robert, the Duke of Normandy in the 11th Century. The author is not known and could likely have been the result of multiple authors; however, John of Milan is generally noted as the author – a name vague enough to defy verification. The English text reproduced in this edition is from Sir John Harington and was first published in 1607.

The verse writing is standard for the day as it allowed the words to be memorized much more easily than prose. While it was meant as lay medical guidance for Duke Robert, it was in such demand that it was copied and translated hundreds of times before the modern printing press was invented. The passage on display in this exhibit highlights the benefits of cheese, which can warm a cold stomach and serve as a replacement for meat in the diet.

Short, Thomas. A Dissertation Upon Tea : Explaining Its Nature and Properties by Many New Experiments ... to Which Is Added the Natural History of Tea and a Detection of the Several Frauds Used in Preparing ... . London: W. Bowyer, for Fletcher Gyles, 1730. [HOM WB 438 S558ds 1730] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 48)

In this dissertation, Short covers the history of tea, including its importance in Japan and China, and its first appearance in England. He discusses the medical uses of tea in preventing such ailments as the spitting of blood, scurvy, dropsy, and indigestion and advises that is can be used to fight the effects of chronic fear or grief. Short also points out the negative effects of tea, such as tremors, and implores against its use for obstructions of the liver, spleen, or pancreas. On the page exhibited, Short discusses the uses of tea for diseases of the eyes and ears as well as sinus symptoms.

19th century trade card advertising imperial granum [much of this text in this image is repeated in the descriptive text found on this webpage]
Imperial Granum trade card, 1891 [from Digital Commonwealth online collections]

Recommended for nursing mothers, babies, and invalids alike, Imperial Granum amounts to little more than a wheat product that is then mixed with various liquids depending on who is consuming it: formula for babies versus water for adults. Trade cards advertising the product state, “this original and world renowned dietetic preparation is a substance of unrivaled purity and nutritive worth derived by a new process from very superior growths of wheat—nothing more.” The text claims it as “the salvator for invalids and the aged” and “an incomparable aliment for the growth and protection of infants and children.”

"[I]t would be difficult to conceive of anything in food or dessert more creamy or delicious, or more nourishing and strengthening as an aliment in fevers, pulmonary complaints, dyspepsia and general debility, its rare medicinal excellence in all intestinal diseases, especially in dysentery, chronic diarrhoea [sic] and cholera infantum, has been incontestably proven."

If “wheat and nothing more” is the cure for all of these conditions, perhaps modern medicine should revisit Imperial Granum’s offerings.

Canister of Imperial Granum included in the on-campus exhibit [Pharmacy collection of Robert Ambrose, 2015-022].

Pereira, Jonathan, and Lee, Charles A. A Treatise on Food and Diet: with Observations on the Dietetical Regimen Suited for Disordered States of the Digestive Organs and an Account of the Dietaries of Some of the Principal Metropolitan and Other Establishments for Paupers, Lunatics, Criminals, Children, the Sick, etc. New York: Fowlers & Wells, 1851. [HOM RM215 P44 1851] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 222)

Jonathan Pereira (1804-1853) was a respected physician and pharmacologist, and the author of Elements of Materia Medica, the first great English work on pharmacology. He was a lecturer and professor at multiple establishments, including the Royal College of Surgeons and the London Hospital. In this treatise, Pereira includes a fairly robust account of the chemical makeup of foods, devotes significant space to the “consideration of alimentary principles,” and includes a chapter on “dietaries” which focuses on the “amount of food proper to be supplied to paupers, prisoners, and others” including the armed forces. The opening of the chapter states that these dietaries will accurately account for the amount of food needed to sustain life and health under various circumstances.

Pavy, F. W. A Treatise on Food and Dietetics, Physiologically and Therapeutically Considered. 2d ed. London: Churchill, 1875. [HOM RM216 P33 1875] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 382)

Frederick William Pavy (1829-1911) was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and a physician and lecturer on physiology at Guy’s Hospital. He was an expert in diabetes, advocating for a low-carbohydrate diet as treatment. This treatise evolved out of the idea of adding a section on food to his earlier work, however, the topics of food and dietetics are so extensive, it became a separate publication. The second edition of this work includes clarifications to the text, modifications (often suggested by reviewers), and the addition of new materials – including an “extensive amplification” on the section on wine (stretching over 35 pages)! The text centers on the physiology of foods, with less focus being given to the actual cooking or preparation of food.

Gatchell, Charles. How to Feed the Sick, or, Diet in Disease: for the Profession and the People. 2nd ed., rev. and enl. Chicago: Gross & Delbridge, 1882. [HOM RM219 G25 1882] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 126)

Charles Gatchell (1851-1910) was a lecturer and professor on the theory and practice of medicine at the University of Michigan Homeopathic College. Gatchell authored this book to more fully answer a question he often received from patients: “What shall I eat?” He noted that issues of diet were not covered in his medical training and hoped that this book could help fill the void and answer that question, both for medical professionals and for the public. This second edition expanded upon the first, especially the chapters relating to diet for infants, and added many new recipes. The section exhibited offers an intriguing option known as “Wine Whey,” a mix of milk and wine said to help calm fevers.

Thompson, W. Gilman. Practical Dietetics: with Special Reference to Diet in Disease. New York: D. Appleton, 1896. [HOM WB400 T478p 1896] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 261)

William Gilman Thompson (1856-1927) was an American physician, dietitian, and author. A graduate of Yale, Thompson founded the New York Clinic for the Functional Re-education of Disabled Soldiers, Sailors, and Civilians (which later merged with NYU Bellevue) and was a professor at NYU Medical College, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, and Cornell University Medical College. Thompson authored this work in hopes of getting dietetic treatment the recognition it deserves within medical literature, as well as its use in hospitals and in the training of doctors and nurses. In the book’s introduction, Gilman writes that while “appropriate dieting is often more needed than medication,” he “distinctly disclaim[s] the advocacy of any special dietetic system as a cure-all, as well as the specific influence of any one food in the general treatment of disease.” Similar to Pereira’s book in this exhibit, Thompson also examines what types and amounts of foods are necessary to sustain life and health.

Farmer, Fannie Merritt. Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent. Boston: Little, Brown, 1911. [HCARare WX 168 F233f 1911] Digital version via the Internet Archive (showing page 42)

Fannie Merritt Farmer (1857-1915) was an American cooking expert well known for her Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. It was first published in 1896, became a best-seller, and remains in print to this day. The cookbook introduced standardized measuring and more rigorous recipes than earlier offerings. Farmer took up cooking while recovering from a paralytic stroke at the age of 16. At age 30, Farmer enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, becoming one of their top students. She stayed on as assistant to the director and then became the school principal in 1891. 

This book was designed to meet the needs of nurses, many of whom had been students in Farmer’s classes over the years, as well as “mothers” in “homes throughout the land” and anyone who cares for the sick. A major focus of the book is on the importance of diet and crafting recipes that don’t require a great amount of time in preparation. Chapter seven highlights the need for proper diet when caring for the sick, and instructs that appetite and cravings are not good guides to providing the best nutrition for recovery.

A large room with 11 boys cooking at tables and 4 adult women teaching the class; image is black and white; boys are wearing chef's hats
Boys cooking class, 1910s [People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary glass lantern slides, 1999-010]

The field of public health in Oregon, like the rest of the United States, was aided by the rise of local and state health agencies as well as citizens’ organizations. In 1904, Valentine Prichard, supervisor of the Portland Public School kindergartens, partnered with prominent local women, such as Helen Ladd Corbett and Caroline Ladd, to organize the People’s Institute Settlement Work.

Black and white image showing 13 girls and 4 adult women in a cooking class in a larger room, each student with a burner and pot in front of them and wearing a chef's hat and apron
Girls cooking class, 1910s [People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary glass lantern slides, 1999-010]

The institute was the city's first attempt to create something akin to Chicago's Hull House, seeking to provide social services to Portland’s low-income residents. Three years later, upon realizing that what the city’s poor most needed was health care, the group founded the Portland Free Dispensary. The dispensary was staffed by volunteer physicians and later became affiliated with the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU), with medical students making rotations through its clinics.

Black and white image showing 19 girls and 1 adult woman in a cooking class, all wearing chef's hats and aprons
Albina Branch cooking class, 1910s [People's Institute and Portland Free Dispensary glass lantern slides, 1999-010]

The Institute also administered other programs to improve the health and well-being of Portland residents, such as these cooking classes that aimed to teach children the useful skills of nutritious meal preparation.

Ullmann, Egon Victor, and Elza Mez. Diet in Sinus Infections and Colds. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933. [WV340 U414d 1933] Digital version via Hathi Trust (showing page 153)

Egon V. Ullmann (1894-1962) was born in Austria and died in Portland, OR. He was a special lecturer for biology at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) and had previously been clinical staff at the University of Vienna and research staff at the State Serum Institute of Austria. Ullmann describes this work in its introduction as “the first systematic attempt to apply the modern knowledge of nutrition to individuals who suffer from repeated colds and sinus diseases.” He states that sinus patients are not sick in their sinuses, this is simply where “abnormal reactions of the tissues manifest themselves.” His goal in the book is not to offer any miracles or cure-alls, but rather to improve the living conditions of those patients more than an operation might. The menu section of the book is arranged so as to provide a balanced lunch and dinner for the recovering patient.

Cooper, Lenna Frances, Edith M. Barber, and Helen S. Mitchell. Nutrition in Health and Disease. Philadelphia, Montreal: J.B. Lippincott Co, 1938. [WB400 C77 1938] Digital version via Virginia Tech

Lenna Cooper (1875-1961) was a leader in developing dietetics as both a science and a profession. She co-founded the American Dietetic Association (1917) and served as the first dietician in the U.S. Army (1918-1919). Edith Barber (1892-1963) was a food columnist at the New York Sun. Her daily column and interaction with home cooks around the country helped her understand their strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen. Helen Mitchell (1895-1984) was a biochemist and nutritionist. She was the research director at the Battle Creek Sanitarium where she was a protégé of John Harvey Kellogg, as Lenna Cooper had been years earlier.

This book was designed primarily as a textbook for nurses and served that role for 30 years in programs around the world, but its wide range of information and use of nontechnical language made it useful for a broader audience as well. It includes not only recipes, but also advice on cooking methods and food storage and handling. The recipes include very detailed measurements and nutritional information.

Amary, Issam B. Effective Meal Planning and Food Preparation for the Mentally Retarded/Developmentally Disabled: Comprehensive and Innovative Teaching Methods. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, 1979. [TX652 A485e 1979] (No digitized version of this book is currently available.)

The focus of this book is admirable even though the language used is offensive by today’s standards. The book sought to teach people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the skills needed for meal planning and preparation, along with associated life skills, like shopping for groceries and keeping a well-ordered kitchen. According to the text, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities had been largely ignored for decades prior. Litigation and legislation slowly brought about an “awareness and moral conscience by society of the needs of the [disabled] population and their right to a life of dignity, achievement of integrity, and realization of independence, self-worth, and socialization.” This guide was written to be used by both educator and student, with language at a fourth to fifth grade level; it was meant to provide disabled people with the skills to maintain a balanced and healthy diet, which also helps them sustain a more independent life outside of any institution. 

Issam Amary (1942-2020) was initially inspired to write this book by his “son’s attempt to use the toaster.” Amary was born in Jerusalem to Syrian parents and came to America in 1962 to attend Missouri Valley College (MVC) in Marshall, Missouri. He began work at the Marshall Habilitation Center in 1968, working his way up and eventually becoming the Superintendent of the Center in 1995. Amary assisted with the establishment of the Special Olympics in Missouri and also authored A Taste of Lebanon, a book of recipes he learned from his mother.

OHSU Contributions

Over the years, OHSU faculty members have also contributed to cookbooks aimed at improving health - either overall or for some specific purpose. Additionally, faculty and staff throughout the hospital take utmost care in the nutrition of patients.

The Swank Diet

Portrait of Roy Swank, wearing a dark suit with a white and blue striped shirt and red tie, against a dark background
Portrait of Roy Swank [Roy L. Swank papers, 1998-009]

Roy Laver Swank (1909-2008) received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University School of Medicine in Evanston-Chicago (1935), specializing in Neurology and Psychiatry. He came to the west coast in 1954 to serve as professor and head of the Neurology Division at the University of Oregon Medical School (UOMS), bringing a team with him from back east. He continued in that role until 1976 and then carried on with his research as Professor Emeritus at UOMS/OHSU until 1993. Dr. Swank became a pioneer in the subject of multiple sclerosis, making major breakthroughs in the field of blood filtration and dietary influences on the course of the disease. He also organized the private company Pioneer Filters, Inc. and later founded the Swank Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. Swank published six books and wrote more than 180 articles in his field.

The Swank Low-Fat Diet, 1959 and 1972 editions. [Roy L. Swank papers, 1998-009]

Dr. Swank’s first diet book was published after 10 years of experience treating over 300 patients with multiple sclerosis via a low-fat diet. It was his belief that the increase in consumption of fats in the “Western world” was linked to the rise in “incidence of certain chronic diseases.” He acknowledges the potential controversy over the treatment of multiple sclerosis through a low-fat diet in the introductory remarks of this first book. The aim of the book, though, is not to make extravagant claims, but to describe the diet he and fellow scientists found to be beneficial to the majority of their patients. The book includes many helpful entries on how best to use the book and maintain the diet, as well as many recipes. It is quite telling of the era, however, that the first chapter of recipes consists solely of three rum-based cocktails! The second edition (1972) added new sections and removed a few older ones (including the chapter on alcoholic beverages) and added many recipes submitted by patients.

Swank, Roy L., and Barbara Brewer Dugan. The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book : A Low-Fat Diet for the Treatment of M.S. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1987. [WB405 S97m 1987] (No digitized version of this book is currently available.)

In 1987, Swank published a much larger revision of the book. The book was renamed to more accurately reflect its focus. The revisions take into account cultural changes and making the diet more inclusive for a wider variety of patients. For example, a number of vegetarian options are added and there are helpful cooking aids for disabled patients. The book includes advice for maintaining the diet while travelling and tips for dining out in restaurants or at friends’ homes. Also included in this edition are the results of statistical analysis on patients who have been on the diet for up to 36 years at the time of publication and an exploration of the psychological stress and trauma that multiple sclerosis patients often face.

Header and welcoming message from the first edition of the Swank Multiple Sclerosis Newsletter
Lasagna recipe from Tom in Philadelphia
Multiple Sclerosis newsletters, 1979 [Roy L. Swank papers, 1998-009].

Dr. Swank’s office began putting out the “Multiple Sclerosis Newsletter” in November 1959. The purpose was to keep patients informed of advances in medical, dietary, and community affairs. The newsletters also shared recipes, including ones submitted by patients, such as the lasagna recipe from Tom in Philadelphia.

Chart showing the progress of Swank's multiple sclerosis patients over the course of 17 years of the low-fat diet
Chart showing the slowed deterioration of Swank's multiple sclerosis patients [Roy L. Swank papers, 1998-009]

Swank developed a scale to rate the neurological state of his patients. His research appeared to show that multiple sclerosis patients on the low-fat diet deteriorated more slowly than those not on the diet. However, some other scientists disagreed. 

In 1989, Roy Swank and colleague Barbara Dugan submitted an article on their research to multiple journals, seeking publication. Comments received from a peer reviewer called into question the science behind their claims. However, proponents of the diet maintain its effectiveness and a revised version of this article was published in 1990 in The Lancet.

The New American Diet

Sonja Connor, seated at a table holding The New American Diet book, William Connor standing behind Sonja with one arm on her shoulder and the other resting on the table; both in white coats in front of a bookshelf
Sonja & William Connor with their book [EdComm images, 2015-030]

The 'new American diet,' outlined in this book by OHSU faculty members Sonja Connor, M.S., R.D. and William Connor, M.D. is presented as the one diet that could “prevent, to a significant degree, all of the major diseases of both over- and under-consumption.” The authors promote their diet as the “most effective” diet for atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, multiple forms of cancer, and “a number of other [unnamed] disorders,” as well as being ideal for weight loss and ongoing weight management. A major difference in this diet, as compared to others on the market at the time, was that it came about through “controlled experimental and scientific research.” In fact, the idea for the diet began over 25 years earlier with William Connor, then a student at the University of Iowa, and a patient he was caring for with severe heart disease. Through further research, Dr. Connor and colleagues eventually identified the chemical composition that would form the basis of the diet. Sonja Connor, a registered dietician, helped translate that chemical list into “foods people would actually want to eat.” In 1975, the Connors relocated to Oregon and began a new program at OHSU. William Connor died in 2009; Sonja Connor remains on faculty in the OHSU School of Medicine nutrition program. 

Connor, Sonja L., and Willam E. Connor. The New American Diet. New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1986. [WB400 C752n 1986] (No digitized version of this book is currently available.)

2 young Black men and 2 older White women in the kitchen of Doernbecher Hospital, one woman and handing a pot to one of the men
Two young Black women place trays of food into a dumbwaiter
Doernbecher kitchen staff, undated [Historical image collection]

Nutrition for patients is an important aspect of their care and recovery. These images show staff in the kitchen of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital making sure the young patients in the hospital are well nourished.