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Salisbury steak was invented as a health food.

Salisbury steak was invented as a health food.

Dr. James Henry Salisbury (1823-1905) was one of the world’s first health food nuts. His mania started during the Civil War, in which he served as physician. He became convinced that the diarrhea from which most men suffered could be relived by large amounts of caffeine and chopped beefsteak. From that he determined that vegetables and starchy foods produced poison in the digestive system, and were the main causes of heart disease, tumors, tuberculosis, and psychosis. He also believed that our teeth showed that we were meant to live on a diet made up mostly of meat.

Dr. Salisbury concocted the perfect health food to prove his dietary arguments: the Salisbury steak. Made of deep-fried or boiled ground beef flavored with onion and seasonings, he believed his steak, when eaten three times a day with lots of water, was the perfect defense against a host of physical problems.

As this fad faded, Dr. Salisbury’s steak might have fallen into obscurity, were it not for World War I. During World War I, anti-German sentiment was rampant, and Americans were looking for alternative names for anything with a moniker that smacked of Germany. “Hamburger” was number one on the list. A new name was finally found—“Salisbury Steak.”