Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
7 minutes for reading

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
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F. G. Solntsev. Peasant family before dinner. 1824



At the end of the 19th century, Americans knew that it was the food of the poor from certain ethnic groups, and they were not at all eager to include it in their diet. However, their preferences were changed by talented advertising and proper packaging.

What is the main innovation that was used to create this packaging?

The answer is a little later.




In an intellectual game What? Where? When? once a question was asked, borrowed from a folk tale, about a prisoner who was allowed to give only one product for both food and drink. What product saved his life? The answer is easy – milk. In childhood, we are all in the same position …

However, the world knows very real peoples who, until recently, used a very limited amount of food for food. A typical example is the Eskimos, who until recently ate almost exclusively meat and fish, most often raw.

In addition to fish, whales, seals, walruses and deer, the Eskimos get little – except perhaps a little algae, any grass and, as a special delicacy, some berries. I remember another question from What? Where? When?: “What will the Eskimo do with the flower if he finds it?” The answer is simple: “Eat!”

Now civilization has penetrated into the farthest corners, and an Eskimo can usually buy a can of canned food or a loaf of bread. But he does this quite rarely – in order to start eating unusual food, great moral efforts are needed. What if it gets hurt?




Nevertheless, you can convince to try the unusual – you just need to be creative. Usually the refusal of unfamiliar food was justified by some untruthful story about why it is harmful – you just had to tell a different story. Not necessarily true.

This is clearly seen in the example of the first poultry, which over the millennia from the jungles of Indochina penetrated into every inhabited corner of the world – an ordinary chicken. It reached the northeast of China about 7,000 years ago – these are the first finds of domestic chickens.

They came to Egypt during the New Kingdom – in the tomb of Tutankhamen there are their images. In Greece, they appeared in ancient times – Plato said that a person is a biped without feathers. Diogenes of Sinop brought him a plucked chicken and asked if it was a man…

There is no need to talk about our time – according to the most rough estimates, the number of chickens on the planet is in the tens of billions. And practically no one has any prejudices about chicken – how can one doubt the benefits of a bird whose crow drives away the darkness of the night and calls on the sun to return and delight us with its light? I don’t have the heart to say it…



Most of the most delicious fruit plants are also recent guests in our area. An apple tree arrived earlier than others from Central Asia, and then not immediately. For example, in biblical times, there was no one to believe that the serpent seduced Eve with an apple – then they did not know what kind of fruit it was at all, and they were inclined to believe that it was a quince. Check – there is not a word about an apple in the Book of Genesis!

Other trees traveled in other ways. Sometimes it was not the place where the fruit appeared, but the place from which it was brought to Europe that was remembered. A typical example is the apricot, which appeared somewhere near the borders of China, but got to Europe, most likely through Armenia, with the help of local merchants. This is evidenced even by its scientific name Prunus armeniaca, that is, “Armenian plum”.

With such a magnificent fruit as an orange, we didn’t have any ambiguities in the name – the fruit brought from China was called Apfelsine, that is, “Chinese apple”. True, here, too, sometimes the name hinted not at the country of origin, but at the place where the fruit was brought from – for example, in Bulgarian an orange is sometimes called “portokal”, since it took root in Portugal earlier.

It turns out that all the fruits are aliens from afar. Sweet cherries and cherries were brought from relatively close lands – from Trebizond, and quite a long time ago, because the inhabitants of the pile buildings of Denmark and Switzerland have known them for 8000 years. And the pear is generally a native of Central Europe. But there are few…




However, these innovations have been introduced for centuries and millennia, but after the journey of Christopher Columbus, the pace of the process of mastering new food raced at a gallop – a whole wave of plants and animals previously unfamiliar to Europe poured out of the newly discovered America.

Maize spread across the continent at a record speed – less than a decade later, it began to be grown in Spain, twenty years later – in Portugal, after forty – in Italy, and even in hostile Turkey, where it was difficult to bring it from Spain, it appeared in early 16th century.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
Corn at home

It was more difficult with tomatoes – it led to suspicion of something that arose from nowhere: bright red fruits were considered poisonous for a long time, purely because of the color. As early as the end of the 18th century, an English spy tried to poison General Washington with tomatoes – with an understandable result.

It was possible to overcome this by a standard trick – replacing a bad legend with a good one. Tomatoes were renamed pomdamours (not “golden apples”, but “love apples”) and began to be prescribed instead of Viagra. Whether it helped well, I don’t know, but the incentive to try was very great…

Potatoes also had troubles – how, it grows underground, and you know who lives there! It came to “potato riots” – the authorities, taking care of the people, ordered to plant potatoes, and the people thanked for such care with murders and arson, after which they were put in jail…




Corn is not the only cereal that has dramatically expanded its range. Together with the Tatar-Mongol invasion, a native of South China, buckwheat, came to Europe. It was even called a Tatar and was not very favored – the Europeans did not associate anything good with the Tatar hordes. The Slavs, who borrowed this crop from Byzantium, called it buckwheat and treated it much better.

As one would expect with such a bad story, the consumption of this product by people in Europe is still minimal – mainly it goes to feed for animals and birds. Even during the Napoleonic wars, talks about buckwheat never stopped. People in Russia eat it, and the French use it only to feed cattle. With a predictable answer that in Russia even the cattle don’t eat frogs …

Nevertheless, to wheat, rye and barley, Europeans slowly added new cereals from distant places – not only American corn, but also millet and rice originating from Asia. In warm regions, of course, they are more familiar, but in Southern Europe they grow no worse than wheat.

And the last common grain crop that came in large quantities to European fields was oat, originally from Northern China and Mongolia. The northerners used it for food, while the southern peoples considered it suitable only for livestock feed.

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Oat was immediately recognized as fodder for livestock, and good ones – remember, Nozdryov, offended by Chichikov, shouts, “Porfiry, go, go tell the groom not to give oats to his horses, let them eat only hay.” But to offer Chichikov a plate of oatmeal and Nozdryov would be ashamed.

It is customary for us that oatmeal is the national dish of England. The famous line from the movie The Hound of the Baskervilles “Oatmeal, sir!” causes no dissonance. But for the British, this is rather funny – “What does English cuisine have to do with it, this is only a Scottish dish, do not be confused!”

It was the Scottish settlers who brought oatmeal to the United States – first to the Elizabeth Islands off the coast of Massachusetts, and then from there it spread throughout the country. But mostly just as horse food, except that the Scots ate oatmeal and oatmeal puddings.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
This is how oats grow

Americans of a different ethnic origin – the same British, even more numerous Germans, not to mention people from more southern countries – not only did not eat oatmeal themselves, but also laughed at the Scots who eat “bestial food” because of their poverty and culinary illiteracy. You understand, the legend about oats, popular in the USA, was nowhere worse.




It is even surprising that with such initial data, there were people who tried to change the attitude of their compatriots to oatmeal. It was hindered not only by its unimportant fame, but even by the usual ways of selling it – oatmeal was sold in barrels, because horses eat a lot.

Who will buy a barrel of food for the house right away? Especially food that is known to everyone as suitable only for the unassuming poor, mostly belonging to one nationality? Of course, it is cheap food, but is such a recommendation useful in a country where everyone has known the saying “We are not rich enough to buy cheap things” since childhood? It’s more likely to hurt…

The general scheme for changing attitudes towards the product, which has already been worked out on many samples, is, in principle, known. If there is a bad legend, you need to replace it with a good one. Is oatmeal scolded as food that is fed to the sick? Already good – it means that it is good for health. But this is not enough…

By the way, one good legend may not be enough – a complex and varied advertising campaign is needed. But you also need the main direction – how to choose it? Who lives in the eastern states where oatmeal is most popular? Is it just the Scots? And is it a matter of nation?




Among the Scots, and not only among them, there are many Quakers – adherents of a special variety of Protestantism.

Quakers are known to all as people of integrity, cleanliness, true to their word, peaceful and rejecting excesses.

It’s good, isn’t it? And they often eat oatmeal… That’s the idea!




In 1881, Henry Parsons Crowell, an entrepreneur from Ohio, bought a windmill for pennies, the owners of which went bankrupt and did not appreciate it. On it, he decided to start releasing a product that, instead of a bad legend, would be accompanied by a good one – about honest and healthy Quakers.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
Henry Crowell

From the very beginning, he took care of the visual image of the advertising campaign – the image of a Quaker, ruddy, healthy and smiling. This prompted the advertising name of the product – Quaker oats. But drawing only on advertising posters is not enough.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
Quaker in advertising

Crowell solved this problem in parallel with another, already mentioned – to sell the product not in barrels, but in a more suitable container. It turned out to be the cardboard box familiar to us, in which cereals and flakes are often packed now – it was clearly more reasonable and more convenient.

To reinforce the new legend, Crowell and his staff developed a series of advertising slogans: “There is nothing more important in life than health!”, “People who eat cereals are more hardy than those who eat meat!”, “Oat grains are rich in what you need brain and body!”

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
1905 magazine advertisement




Before launching oatmeal into mass production, Crowell launched a special “Quaker train” throughout America, which carried around the country and distributed promotional samples of new products to those who wished. It was done to create demand before the oatmeal went on sale.

Crowell made extensive use of the expert opinions of eminent scientists in advertising, confirming the useful properties of the new product from the point of view of science. He also used the positive reviews of famous people – now this is a common practice, but then it was a novelty.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
Quaker Oats factory in Peterborough

Another advertising technique, which has now become quite common, Crowell was one of the first to use – those who sent him pictures of a Quaker cut out of the packaging received prizes and valuable gifts. At the same time, he began to attach a free measuring spoon to the box.

Crowell began to improve the product itself. A technology has been developed in which oat grains are not ground finely, but rolled into flakes. It cut the porridge preparation time in half and, as expected, was immediately reflected in the advertisement.

The success of this strategy has been enormous. Thousands of Quaker pictures cut out of boxes came in the mail, and those who sent them received the promised prizes. The volume of products sold grew by leaps and bounds. And most importantly, a good legend replaced the bad one.

NON-TRIVIAL SOLUTION: How to teach to eat unusual food?
Box of Quaker Oats




Unusual food even less attracts buyers than obviously harmful – alcohol is bought up very willingly, and in order to sell new porridge, you had to talk a lot about it.

Feed-requiring chicken has taken over the world, and grass-eating geese are far behind chickens in terms of prevalence and popularity. Maybe because they do not call the sun to heaven.

Even false information about the benefits of the product for men’s health does a lot for its popularity – like with pomdamour tomatoes. Or not entirely false? The fact that tomato peel protects against prostate tumors is now considered proven …

It makes no sense to refute a bad legend – it is more correct to displace it with a good one. What was the point in denying the popularity of oatmeal among the Scottish poor? It would be more correct to say that there are other lovers of it …

The brilliant image of an honest and healthy Quaker would hardly have ensured the success of a new product on its own. It was the varied, inventive, and well-coordinated advertising campaign that made Crowell so successful. That’s how it usually happens.


All illustrations are from open sources

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