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  • Writer's pictureLee Hanson

Eggs & Bacon: The Traditional American Breakfast

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

If you have taken a psychology or public relations class, you unquestionably have encountered Edward L. Bernays. Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and is known as the father of public relations and propaganda. He has been credited with developing techniques for governments, corporations, and organizations to manipulate the masses using crowd psychology and psychoanalysis. His most well-known initiatives include a 1929 attempt to encourage female smoking by branding cigarettes as feminist "Torches of Freedom" and his work for the United Fruit Company in the 1950s, which linked the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan government in 1954. Finally, he is the reason we think that eggs and bacon are seen as the traditional American breakfast.

A Light Breakfast

In the 20th century, a light breakfast was customary in America. Most folks had coffee rolls and, from time to time, ate some cereal. During this period, jobs became based out of offices and factories, so people were no longer burning as many calories as they did before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Because of this, people were concerned about their weight and ate smaller portions. People consuming small meals in the 1920s was a problem for meat packing companies, especially for The Beech-Nut Packing Company.

The Father of Propaganda Takes Over

The Beech-Nut Packing Company hired Bernays and his team to attempt to solve their consumer issues. It was one conversation between Bernays and a staff physician that forever changed the way we view consumer behavior. He asked the physician if a bigger breakfast would benefit people’s health, and the doctor said starting your day with more food would be a great way to produce more energy. Eventually, Bernays instructed his physician to write to 5,000 of his medical colleagues and ask them whether they agreed or not. More than 4,500 responded in writing, agreeing with his hypothesis.

Bernays then published his results, and across America, newspaper headlines were plastered with news about the revolutionary “hearty breakfast,” often writing different versions of “Most Doctors Recommend a Hearty Breakfast Such as Eggs and Bacon.” Consequently, the sales of bacon grew. Interesting, eh?

Transforming Public Opinion

The tactics that made Bernays famous in his career that shaped and formed public opinion are still used by companies and governments worldwide. In The Father of Spin (published in 1998), his biographer Larry Tye wrote, "Hired to sell a product or service, he instead sold whole new ways of behaving, which appeared obscure but over time reaped huge rewards for his clients and redefined the very texture of American life." How spooky is that – that our behavior can be bought through advertisements and propaganda?

We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by advertisements and propaganda from companies, politicians, and other institutions that tell us what the trends and fads are, what is fact and opinion, and what is information and disinformation. The reasons why you do what you do, and your perceptions of the world may not be what they seem. Something to think about, folks.

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