Vitamin History in the New Statesman

In the UK, Vitamania is called The Vitamin Complex. In celebration of its release, I have a piece in the New Statesman about the history of vitamin marketing and how it still affects us today. 

Iceberg lettuce, which is essentially water in leaf form, became “Nature’s Concentrated Sunshine”; bananas were a “natural vitality food.” Ralston Wheat Cereal put “the B1 in Breakfast.” “New research” suggested it was probably a good idea to “start or end One Meal a Day with Canned Pineapple”. If you didn’t want to risk vitamin starvation (“a danger that gives no warning!”) you’d better eat Del Monte “vitamin-protected” canned foods. Schlitz Sunshine Vitamin D Beer launched in 1936 with the tagline: “Beer is good for you . . . but SCHLITZ, the beer with Sunshine Vitamin D, is extra good for you.”

By the time the first synthetic vitamins became available in the Thirties and Forties, consensus was gathering around the idea that inadequate nutrition – including vitamin deficiencies – could affect not just people’s health status, but their personalities. As far back as 1927, Grape-Nuts had run an ad suggesting that poor nutrition could put children at risk of “unfortunate personality traits” including self-centeredness, shyness, lack of confidence, selfishness, jealousy, depression, and self-pity.