The organic food movement owes a lot to Jerome Rodale. As the publisher of Prevention and Organic Gardening and Farming magazines in the 1940s and 50s, Rodale was promoting "organic food" before most people had even heard the term. But today he's probably best remembered for his death. He died of a heart attack on the couch of The Dick Cavett Show after saying that he'd probably live to be 100 years old. He was 72.
From the New Republic, with one hell of an opening paragraph:
On June 7, 1971, Jerome Irving Rodale appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show." The elder statesman of a growing organic food trend, he gushed about the health benefits of his diet, boasting that he "never felt better" and that he "decided to live to a hundred." But after a commercial break, as Cavett interviewed his second guest, what sounded like a loud snore rose from Rodale's end of the couch. The audience twittered, thinking that he was pulling a prank. But Cavett knew. When he looked over at Rodale's bloodless pallor and gaping mouth his suspicion was confirmed—America's most famous natural-health figure was dead of a heart attack at 72.
That episode never aired, despite the fact that so many people still insist that they saw it. But the story of Rodale only gets weirder, because he wasn't just a pioneer in the promotion of organic food. He also promoted the idea that vaccines were harmful and had a lot of strange, unscientific ideas about health.
For instance, Rodale believed that happy people didn't get cancer. He also implied that racial segregation allowed black people to be happier. And guess what happens when you put those two ideas together?
In his 1970 book, Happy People Rarely Get Cancer, Rodale insisted: "Negroes get less cancer than whites, for the Negro is a happy race. True, there is their problem of segregation, but the Negro race being what it is, I think a Negro sings just the same, and is not going to let segregation dampen his spirits as much as a similar problem would do to the white person."
You can read the full story about Rodale at The New Republic. It's a truly fascinating profile by Maria McGrath who's working on a book about the history of the natural food movement called Food for Dissent, which appears to be based on her dissertation.
Image: Whole Foods in L.A. circa 1997 via Associated Press