Brown is Best: the Reform Bread League

Jamie Oliver is the latest in a long line of food reformers. John Burnett looks at the campaign of the Reform Bread League to improve the nation’s loaf.

The Bread Reform League was founded in 1880 by May (Mary Anne) Yates, an amateur artist and member of the Ladies’ Sanitary Association. On a visit to Sicily she had admired the fine physique of the peasants who lived principally on brown bread, and contrasted their vigour with the ill-health she saw in English towns, especially among poor children. Her conclusion that white bread, the staple food of the working classes, was a principal cause of malnutrition, led her to renounce her artistic career, sell her jewellery, and devote the next forty years to changing British tastes from white bread to brown.

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