Health claims about apple cider vinegar are everywhere. But are they true? This week, we hop into the wayback machine for the story of America's first health influencer. (That's not true, but neither is anything else in this episode.)
Thanks to David Johnston for providing sources for this week’s episode!
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Mike: Welcome to Maintenance Phase, the show that turns your hippie parents into mean weirdos.
Mike: Is that what we're doing? Is that what the show is about today?
Aubrey: That’s not quite it, but definitely hippie parents' territory.
Mike: That's what I was told about this. I'm Michael Hobbes.
Aubrey: I'm Aubrey Gordon. If you would like to support the show, you can do that at patreon.com/maintenancephase or you can buy t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, whatever you like at TeePublic. Both of those are linked for you in the show notes. Also, fun update. I have written another book and it's coming out in January.
Mike: Yay. Go buy it, go buy Aubrey's book. What's it called, Aubrey?
Aubrey: It's called You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People. The idea is that it's organizing a bunch of prompts for deeper thinking and research and history and a bunch of other things. You can get that at aubreygordon.net/myths. And we will link it for you in the show notes.
Mike: And we're going to talk about it a lot when it comes out. And are you going to read the audiobook this time? [Aubrey laughs] This is the number one comment we get from listeners.
Aubrey: [laughs] It's the number one comment we get from listeners. It's the number one comment I get in my email inbox. It's number one comment that my publisher gets. Yes, I am reading the audiobook, I start recording tomorrow.
Mike: So, you have Aubrey in your ears different ways. Starting in January.
Aubrey: Maybe more than you want. We'll find out. [laughs]
Aubrey: And today, Michael, you alluded to it. We are talking about a topic near and dear to many a hippie vegan heart, and that is Braggs.
Mike: I am the fresh maker on an episode [Aubrey laughs] I have no fucking idea what we're talking about.
Aubrey: You're rolling around in a suit on a wet paint bench, even [crosstalk] pinstripes.
Mike: You told me a couple of weeks ago that we were doing this. I've never heard of this brand. I've never heard of this story. I'm ready to be taken in your arms [Aubrey laughs] and pulled along on a path of information.
Aubrey: Okay, Bragg Live Food is a natural foods company based in Santa Barbara in California. They are all told a pretty small company, but they have a fairly big impact, people who know them and love them, extremely know them and love them. I'm going to send you an image of their nutritional yeast, just so that you can see, "Oh, that's the bag." Click through and see the little picture of the canister.
Mike: Nutritional yeast. Packed with protein and B vitamins Bragg Nutritional-- Oh, fuck off, there's pop-ups. Argh. I don't want your newsletter.
Aubrey: The main reason I'm sending this to you is to look at the packaging. This, the apple cider vinegar and the liquid aminos, all come with this bright yellow label. It's got the two leaders of the company in portrait on the label, and there's a big red banner that says Bragg.
Mike: Nutritious, great taste, vegetarian, gluten-free, salt-free sugar-free. It's just claiming a lot of stuff at me.
Aubrey: Sodium-free, delicious flavors added to [Michael laughs] foods and recipes. That is ideally the goal of most foods is to add flavor.
Mike: Oh, and then it's got more information on the founder. So, it says Patricia Bragg, ND?
Aubrey: Yeah, naturopathic.
Mike: Oh, naturopathic doctor PhD, pioneer health crusader, health educator, author, and it's got Paul C. Bragg, originator health spores. It's making claims, I can't read that.
Aubrey: Originator of health stores.
Aubrey: And then life extension specialist.
Mike: Oh, no. Okay.
Aubrey: On this packaging. It has those spiky bubbles that show up on sensationalized packaging for foods.
Mike: Yeah, it's like the Batman pow sign.
Aubrey: [[laughs] Yes, there you go, that's exactly it.
Mike: It's like BaP.
Aubrey: The things they have chosen to highlight in those big green bubbles are sodium-free and shaker top.
Mike: Yeah, [Aubrey laughs] these are weird choices.
Aubrey: Lots of seasonings come with a Shaker Top, Paul and Patricia.
Mike: It's like how when they used to list special features on DVDs. They would always say "interactive menu." [Aubrey laughs] Yeah, that's my expectation.
Aubrey: Bragg's has made its name selling nutritional yeast sometimes called Brewer's yeast. It really is a good source of B vitamins. I think it's fucking delicious.
Aubrey: They also have their liquid aminos which are billed as a healthier alternative to soy sauce.
Aubrey: And then the last one is good old-fashioned Apple Cider Vinegar, which has about one million health claims.
Aubrey: In 2007, according to Hoover's corporate database, they did about $3.1 million in sales. And they employed about 25 people. So, it is a small company.
Mike: Yeah, pretty small.
Aubrey: The company was founded by Paul Bragg and then later run by his daughter, Patricia Bragg. Paul and Patricia have written a lot of books about health and wellness. I am going to send you some of the titles of these books, some of the words are in all caps. That's because that's how they're stylized on the cover of the book.
Aubrey: And because I think it makes it funnier to leave those in.
Mike: "Water: The Shocking Truth, the water you're drinking may look safe, but is it?" Oh, no.
Mike: "Healthy heart, learn the facts, building powerful nerve force and positive energy, the miracle of fasting proven throughout history for physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation." Okay, so we're in Gerson Therapy adjacent [Aubrey laughs] like, "Here's the secret to health stuff and how our yeasts are gonna solve it."
Aubrey: I was thinking about knowing that you didn't know a ton about this company or their products. I was like, "How do I shorthand the vibe here to Mike?"
Aubrey: And then I looked at their list of books and I was like, "Thank you for doing it for me."
Mike: I'm dealing with a lot of unforeseeable nerves right now. This might actually be helpful for me [Aubrey laughs] my nerves lack force.
Aubrey: Their most popular books are one about Apple Cider Vinegar unsurprisingly, and this The Miracle of Fasting, I did read The Miracle of Fasting, I think, it may be due for a diet book deep dive at some point because every single page is bananas. At one point, Paul writes, "You have nine doctors at your command, Dr. Sunshine, Dr. Fresh Air, Dr. Pure Water.
Mike: Oh, no. [laughs] Dr. Muscles, Dr. Stretching. Dr. Fruits.
Aubrey: Dr. Good Natural Food, Dr. fasting.
Mike: Oh, my God.
Aubrey: Dr. Exercise, Dr. Rest, Dr. Good Posture, and Dr. Human Mind.
Mike: Not how doctors work, but thank you, Paul. I like how he has a doctor of foods and a doctor of how not to eat.
Aubrey: In the introduction, there are these phrases that appear as subheads. And one that appears a couple of times in this book is, "Sickness is a crime, don't be a criminal."
Mike: It's weird marketing stuff. They're just reframing these extremely banal points of, "try not to be sick," which is most of us are already doing.
Mike: But then they're reframing it in these weirdly stigmatizing, but also overly elaborate ways. "Don't read the sickness Bible, be a sickness atheist."
Aubrey: I feel what you just said about they have this weirdly Baroque and needlessly complicated way of talking about pretty basic things, and then just throw in some wild cards in there. They have a plan called The Bragg Healthy Lifestyle.
Aubrey: These are some of the do's and don'ts that Paul Bragg created, and that Patricia Bragg follows and champions. I picked a few of those and I'm going to send those along to you.
Mike: Ooh, okay. "Do fast one day a week to detoxify your system. Don't eat refined sugar, distilled vinegar, salty foods, white rice or flour, fried foods, saturated fats or hydrogenated oils, coffee or caffeinated teas, pork, smoked fish, and meat, canned soups or food with preserve chemicals." Jesus Christ. Okay, "Don't eat or drink food. Don't drink cow's milk. Do go out in the sun regularly. Sun has healing and germ-killing energy."
Aubrey: Uh-huh, sun has it.
Mike: "Don't eat meat more than twice a week or fish more than several times a week." More than several.
Aubrey: Don't do it.
Mike: "Get your protein from vegetable sources instead. Don't rely on enemas, or high colonics unless you're sick or have extreme constipation." That sounds reasonable advice to me.
Mike: Don't wash out your butt unless there's a reason for you to wash out your butt.
Aubrey: Also, unusual advice from this particular sector. This is the colonic sector.
Mike: It's like when you're talking to a conspiracy theorist, and they tell you about the one that they don't believe.
Aubrey: [laughs] Yes.
Mike: Moon landing is faked, Princess Diana was killed by MI6. And then you're like, "What about Bigfoot?" And they're like, "You know what? I don't see the evidence."
Aubrey: It is also worth noting that the company is proud to report that it has a Patricia & Paul Bragg Foundation where they do charitable giving. And if you go to that website, most of that money goes to rescue missions and wildlife centers and that sort of thing.
Aubrey: They also have given a couple of times to GMO-free campaigns and anti-GMO organizations.
Mike: Okay, we're nearing the Gwynethverse.
Aubrey: The gravity is pulling us closer. I spent some quality time, I remembered a skill that I have for my previous job, which is navigating a bunch of political contribution databases. And I spent a solid hour last night just searching for people that we've covered on the show and their respective states and being like, "Why did they give money to politically?" One of the things that came out of that is that Braggs gave to GMO-Free Mendocino campaign.
Aubrey: That's our lady of Goop Gwyneth Paltrow gave a personal $15,000 contribution too.
Mike: Which you texted me about and now I'm prompting you to talk about, yes.
Aubrey: Thank you.
Aubrey: Thank you so much.
Mike: [crosstalk] -you a reason.
Aubrey: And I love it. The story of Bragg Live Foods is, for all intents and purposes, the story of Paul and Patricia Bragg. Paul Bragg was born in 1881. We're getting in the Wayback Machine.
Aubrey: He was born in 1881 to farmers in Virginia. He was raised on that farm. He talks a lot about growing up on a farm and how that formed his relationship to food. He says he had two brothers and a sister named Louise. In The Miracle of Fasting, he talks about teaching Louise about clean, healthy living, and tutoring her to good health after she had some kind of sickness that he doesn't really specify.
Mike: So, as a child, he's already into this stuff.
Aubrey: Absolutely. He also talks about this pivotal moment in his own life. He says that when he was 16, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Aubrey: He says he was sent to a sanitarium or he was treated by a Swiss nurse who recommended a Swiss doctor. Bragg went to see that doctor who treated tuberculosis, "With natural foods and exercise."
Mike: Oh, no. Okay, this is the origin story. I text myself.
Aubrey: Here is a little quote from an archived version of the Bragg's website.
Mike: It says, "Crippled by tuberculosis as a teenager, Bragg developed his own eating, breathing, and exercising program to rebuild his body into an ageless, tireless pain-free citadel of glowing super health." He excelled in running, swimming, biking, progressive weights training, and mountain climbing. He made an early pledge to God in return for his renewed health to spend the rest of his life showing others the road to super health." So, he appointed himself as God's Messenger to mansplain, like, "This is what worked for me," to other people his whole life.
Aubrey: By age 18, it's 1899, Paul Bragg is tuberculosis free, he comes back to the US from his Swiss doctor. When he returns to the US, he meets a figure who will prove really, really, formative for him in that pursuit of a health and wellness career.
Mike: Blake Lively.
Aubrey: Ooh, do you have any predictions about who it is?
Mike: Wait, when are we now, we're in 1899?
Aubrey: 1899. We have talked about this person before on the show.
Mike: Oh, is that the diaper guy?
Mike: Is this the fighting diaper guy?
Aubrey: I love that you remembered. Yes, he meets Bernarr Macfadden.
Mike: We had one or a couple of photos of him, I think, we looked at in the Keto episode. He's a small ropey man in this boxing pose of put up your dukes. Like, meh, [Aubrey laughs] that's how I imagine everybody talking like then.
Aubrey: Yes, a couple more little color details for Bernarr Macfadden. He changed his name from Barnard to Bernarr with two R's, because he thought it sounded like a lion roaring.
Aubrey: He was also, I think most notably was the publisher of Physical Culture, which was the first big bodybuilding and fitness magazine in the United States. These two as far as I can tell like a lock eyes, the music swells, fireworks go off, like they are just meant to be. And they start collaborating on all sorts of health and wellness projects. Most notably, Bernarr Macfadden hires Paul Bragg as an editor at Physical Culture.
Mike: Oh, they're doing a collab.
Aubrey: While those two were working together, Bragg accomplishes something truly remarkable. He becomes an Olympian.
Mike: What? Oh, in like ping pong, like one of the sports [crosstalk] he does?
Aubrey: No, wrestling. He competes with the US Olympic team in wrestling in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.
Aubrey: The same year that he's in the Olympics, he says he opens the country's first health food store.
Mike: Okay, probably not true, but fine.
Aubrey: So, around this time, the outgrowth of the health food store is Bragg Live Food Products. That's where the company starts. He talks around this time about how he's worried about the refinement and processing of American food.
Mike: It's fascinating that the term processed was around that long ago and that-
Mike: -then same arguments were being made like, "We have these natural things that come out of the earth, but then we'd processed them into something unhealthy."
Aubrey: Yeah, there was a whole piece that I read about the history of health claims around apple cider vinegar and how it's been used. At this point, in history, there's quite a bit of hand-wringing, because normally, apples are grown by grafting, not by planting seeds.
Aubrey: When you plant apple seeds, generally the fruit that you get is gnarlier, it's more sour, it's more fibrous. There's a bunch of stuff about it that's not great. But it was killer for making hard apple cider and apple cider vinegar, like these super gnarly apples just fermented beautifully apparently. In the US, we have genuine real actual historical figure Johnny Appleseed, who is a Swedenborgian, I don't know if this is a Christian sect that you are familiar with.
Aubrey: But according to Swedenborgians, grafting a plant would be akin to torturing that plant.
Aubrey: So, he starts planting these seeded apple trees that give these gnarly ass apples. And folks really develop a taste for fermented products made with this particular kind of apple.
Mike: Was his wife's name Granny Smith or something? I [crosstalk] origin story of everything.
Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah, absolutely. So that could be where some of the processed food stuff is coming from. Their food systems are legitimately changing. And with any change, there is often a level of uncertainty or distrust, or sometimes straight-up panic. And it seems to me, Paul Bragg is articulating some of those anxieties.
Mike: And also, this is the time of the jungle and a lot more awareness of genuinely bad practices in the American food processing industry. Some of this anxiety is extremely justified.
Aubrey: Absolutely. After he opens the health food store, he starts, what he says is the "nation's first health and wellness lecture tour."
Mike: It's a medicine show. It's the same thing we saw on the Snake Oil episode.
Aubrey: Mike, why are you spoiling? [laughs]
Mike: Oh, am I doing it? Okay, sorry.
Aubrey: No, it's okay. He calls it Bragg Health Crusade. This was the quote I was going to give you to be like, "Isn't it like a medicine show, doesn't this sound familiar?"
Mike: Okay, you were leading me on a path and I got to the destination too fast, I'm sorry.
Aubrey: I did consider this possibility last night where I was like, "This is only full of twists and turns if you haven't hosted this show with me for two years."
Aubrey: One of the attendees of a Bragg Health Crusade lecture remembers this particular part of it. This is a direct quote from someone who was there.
Mike: It says, "Paul had this great big pot he take on stage and he put 20 to 25 jars of different chemicals you find in food. Stuff from white bread, coke, you name it, and he'd say, 'I'm going to cook dinner for everyone tonight.' Then he'd put everything in the pot, stir it up and shout 'Who's ready to eat? Folks, that's what you're putting in your body.'" Oh, this is the Jamie Oliver' Chicken Nuggets thing from 70 years later.
Aubrey: It is Turkey Twizzlers?
Aubrey: It is pink slime. It is also medicine showmen like pulling a tooth.
Mike: I think of it as similar to-- you have to go to the seminars to buy a timeshare.
Mike: They make you go to the seminar. And the only reason to go to the seminar is like, "Yes, I would to be tricked into buying this thing."
Aubrey: You have really cracked the code on this business model because-- after the lecture is free, and then afterward, you can get a private health consultation with Paul Bragg in the 1935 Health Crusade Series, that health consultation costs $20.
Mike: That sounds expensive in 1935.
Aubrey: In today's dollars, that is $425.
Mike: Yeah, it's a good grift.
Aubrey: And he's doing all of this during and just after the Depression. Opened the first health food store, starting the first Health Lecture Series are just two of his many, many, many firsts in the natural foods and health foods world. According to Bragg's website, he was the first to introduce pineapple juice and tomato juice to the US.
Aubrey: He was the first to introduce and distribute honey and date sugar nationwide.
Aubrey: He hosted the first health TV show, which he co-hosted with Patricia called Health & Happiness. And he says he opened one of the first health restaurants and health spas.
Mike: I mean, I like juice. Thank you for the juice, Paul.
Aubrey: Sure. Pineapple juice, delicious.
Mike: Delicious, yeah.
Aubrey: And through the health crusades, in particular, Bragg gets a lot of famous supporters. So, are you familiar with Jack LaLanne?
Mike: He's like the quintessential exercise guru. He's the first exercise influencer to break through to the mainstream.
Aubrey: Yeah, he's like a TV and magazine muscle man-
Aubrey: -in the way that people in the 40s would be muscle men.
Aubrey: Where you're like, Oh, he looks like a dude who is popping his chest out."
Mike: Dude, I'm looking, as you're talking, I'm doing a google image search for physical culture for this magazine. And there are all these spreads of bodybuilders. And, yeah, it's so fascinating to me how the people that were considered the ideal of male athleticism back then would be considered dudes with dad bods now.
Aubrey: And what you're talking about here is not comments on these particular dudes' bodies, but what they represent in terms of how our standards have changed and our visual indicators of fitness have changed.
Aubrey: This is a decidedly pre-Chris Hemsworth world se.
Aubrey: So, Jack LaLanne says that he attended one of the health crusade lectures as a teenager when he was 15. And credits Paul Bragg with, "Saving his life."
Mike: That doesn't sound true but okay.
Aubrey: But Jack LaLanne has also said, "Paul's the best salesman I ever knew. Paul could sell shoelaces to the barefoot." [chuckles]
Mike: Okay, so, "Also he tricked me into a bunch of stuff I didn't need."
Aubrey: He also appears to have inspired a generation of health and wellness leaders in reading profiles about him and about Patricia. You'll get quotes from the people who run eating foods, and the guy who founded Gardenburger. And the founder of GNC reportedly went to one of his health crusades lectures. Dr. Scholl. He's really the ground zero of a whole generation of health woo-woo stuff.
Aubrey: You know what? He's The Velvet Underground of health and wellness world.
Aubrey: Not everybody bought his albums, but everyone who did started a band.
Mike: Rapper's Delight, he's Sugarhill Gang.
Aubrey: No, it's not--[crosstalk] [laughs]
Mike: Everything that comes afterwards.
Aubrey: Did you ever go over to a friend's house and the food just ain't no good.
Mike: That's what we're talking about.
Aubrey: So, Paul Bragg has a long and storied career. There are one million little anecdotes and other firsts that he throws in there. He ultimately passed away in 1976. His death certificate lists, his birth date is February 6th, 1881. So that means he was 95 when he died.
Mike: It's all the vinegar.
Aubrey: 95, he did it.
Mike: He made it.
Aubrey: After he dies, Bragg gets all these buyout offers from Ovaltine and Kroger and all of these big deal companies at the time. Despite all those offers, they keep it in the family, and the company is passed along to his daughter Patricia. She is a character.
Aubrey: I am sending you a picture of Patricia Bragg's regular everyday look.
Mike: Oh, wow.
Aubrey: Yeah. Hey.
Mike: She looks like one of those America dolls that comes with a tea set.
Aubrey: She looks like she is from another era.
Aubrey: That's for sure.
Mike: She's wearing a pink sweater with flowers sewn into it, huge pearl necklace. And then something like a wool almost, like cowboy hat, bright pink also with flowers on it.
Aubrey: I sent this picture to a friend and was like "Oh, so she was strawberry shortcake?
Mike: Yeah, I mean--
Aubrey: And I was like that is totally the vibe.
Mike: She looks a kooky rich lady.
Aubrey: She famously hates swearing and she loves to tell the story about how she fired someone for swearing on the job once.
Mike: I've read a number of her reviews of our show on iTunes.
Aubrey: Oh, no. [laughs]
Mike: [crosstalk] -her feedback. One star, tried to listen, couldn't do it.
Aubrey: She is my aunt who has stopped listening to the show because too much swearing.
Mike: Due to the cursing, due to the Lord's name in vain.
Aubrey: She also, as you predicted is a kooky lady. There's a great little graph from one of these profiles called, "Patricia Bragg born to do her father's work."
Mike: It says, "She's never shaved her legs, painted her fingernails or worn makeup. Her father advised her to never wear a bra because it impedes circulation. But everything still stands up by itself. She says proudly demonstrating the pectoral exercises she does three times a day in two-minute sessions. She's never pierced her ears because it exposes nerve endings and doesn't wear a wristwatch because she believes it cuts off circulation. She never had the desire to rebel against her father's teachings and sneak a cigarette or even an aspirin. I always knew the consequence of living an unhealthy lifestyle is sickness, you pay for your sins." [laughs] I see why you picked this. She's afraid of sick crimes, illness crimes.
Aubrey: Sick crimes, bras, shaved legs, fingernails painted. Also, there is this part where she says according to this profile, she's never worn makeup. Please do look at the picture that I sent you-
Mike: Yeah, I was going to say--
Aubrey: -of a lady very clearly wearing eyeliner and lipstick.
Mike: Hello makeup.
Aubrey: What are we doing?
Mike: Yeah, but then there's also this weird conflation of sin and morality too. Even as she's also lying, about not wearing makeup.
Mike: Which is also pretty immoral.
Aubrey: When Paul Bragg suggests to Patricia Bragg that she should consider being a "health missionary," many of the people that they know and that know Paul Bragg say that he was so strong-willed that a suggestion wasn't really a suggestion so much as, "I'm telling you this and you're going to do it now."
Mike: Oh, so he's just a dick. Okay.
Aubrey: Kind of, yeah. From there, Patricia Bragg pretty much directly moves into working at the company supporting Paul's work. And that is where she spends the duration of her career. She follows in Paul's footsteps, she starts writing their family books, she starts inventing things. She has this claim that she loves to talk about, about how she's the youngest woman ever to be issued a patent in US history.
Aubrey: She co-hosts his TV show with him. There is a quote from one of these profiles that says "Today, Brad crusades mainly through radio talk shows recording as many as five a day."
Mike: How many talk shows are there?
Aubrey: This is astonishing. So like I say, she is cranking out books, she's cranking out all this stuff. She does a revisit of one of their books that she writes with Kenny Loggins wife.
Aubrey: She also has even more than her dad one million stories about famous people and how much they love Braggs. There's a whole story where she talks about being a nutritional advisor to Steve Jobs at one point.
Mike: Good sign. A man who never made mistakes when it comes to health and wellness.
Aubrey: Patricia keeps on keeping on and eventually sells the company in 2019 to an investor group.
Aubrey: Since then, she's been retired and the new owners have taken over.
Mike: It's weird to me that it-- I think this company's bullshit, but also it bums me out that it's now a private equity-owned company.
Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely.
Mike: I'm feeling complicated feelings right now.
Aubrey: You're like, "I wanted to stay with its original kooky family."
Mike: "I want it to be grifting locally."
Aubrey: [laughs] So, what do you think so far? Talk to me about like, what are your impressions of this business? How are you feeling?
Mike: Well, I know you and I know this show, so I feel the third chapter has to be like, this is all the stuff they were lying about and you go back and debunk.
Aubrey: Okay, Mike. You already called it.
Aubrey: The catch here is in fact, almost none of what I just told you is true.
Aubrey: There is no evidence that Paul Bragg had a sister named Louise. He did not grow up in a farm in Virginia. He grew up in DC where his father worked for the US printing office. [Michael laughs] The big, big, one is, he wasn't born in 1881 a birth certificate that is very likely his, says that he was born fully 14 years later.
Mike: Oh, so he was saying like, "I'm so old and yet I'm in such good health," but he's actually not that old.
Aubrey: That's his entire pitch is like, "Look, how youthful and vital I am. Don't you want to be like me? You got to have this apple cider vinegar. It's got to be unfiltered, here we go."
Mike: This is the opposite of my online dating profile. "I'm 24. [Aubrey laughs] Those photos are new."
Aubrey: Whole Bragg built a career out of this. He ran a fitness program in his 20s and actually, I'm going to send you a picture of this fitness program because there's a little caption with this picture.
Mike: If I could go back, the tagline would be, "Welcome to Maintenance Phase. Don't believe anything in the first 45 minutes."
Mike: It's all crumbling down.
Aubrey: That is often our show.
Mike: Okay, so this is a photo that says, "26-year-old Bragg with a class in 1920. He had them convinced that he was 41."
Aubrey: The thing that I kept thinking about with all of this stuff he's lying about roughly 15 years of his life, depending on what date you go with. He offered three different birth years for himself over the course of his life, and multiple different locations to different press outlets. But the thing that I keep coming back to is, if you think about what a 26-year-old looks like and then you think about what a 41-year-old looks like.
Mike: Yeah, it's wild.
Aubrey: You have to want to believe that-
Aubrey: -so much.
Mike: God, it's such a simple grift though. I can't believe how basic it is. Just tell people you're 40 when you're 25.
Aubrey: I have these moments where I am like, "Do I respect this?" I don’t. To be clear I don't. This is like when someone figured out that you should put salt on caramel.
Mike: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: So that's the whole thing that's the "evidence" for all of his claims. It's like, look at this 40-year-old, he looks like he's 25.
Mike: So my word.
Aubrey: There's a quote from a fantastic three-part piece from MauiTime, called In the Name of the 'Father.' And that piece reads, "That means his 1976 death came at the age of 81, not 95."
Mike: Of course.
Aubrey: Remember, the packaging of the food says "life extension specialists."
Mike: Right. God.
Aubrey: This dude died at 81, which is only a few years older than the average American life expectancy at this point.
Mike: It is really incredible that nobody was just like, "Wait, sorry, how old are you?"
Aubrey: "Come on. You said you were 40. Come on."
Mike: Because if I was hanging out with a 25-year-old who was claiming to be 40, I feel I could sniff it out.
Mike: I'd be like, "You can't name any of the characters from Saved by the Bell."
Aubrey: You don't love Poison by Bell Biv DeVoe, like they are very simple questions.
Mike: Exactly. [laughs]
Aubrey: So, we could ask to get to the bottom of this. What are your opinions on new jack swing as a genre? No. So, that is not the only lie that he told. And it's not the only lie that Patricia told.
Aubrey: Please enjoy, the next quote from In the Name of the 'Father' this outstanding MauiTime piece.
Mike: "Patricia must have used the words 'my dad' in reference to the late Paul Bragg at least a dozen times during the course of our interview, but he was not her biological father." What? [Aubrey laughs] "According to her California birth certificate, she was born Patricia Pendleton at Oakland's Peralta Hospital. Patricia's use of the Bragg name comes from her marriage to Robert E. Bragg, a chiropractor, and son of Paul Bragg. That makes Paul Bragg Patricia's father-in-law." Okay, so she married into this family, and then, for no real reason invented the story. I don't think anyone would particularly care honestly if she's the non-biological daughter. I mean, yeah, it seems a weird own goal.
Aubrey: This is the natural foods world equivalent of what is the relationship between Jack and Meg White.
Mike: Another thing that a 40-year-old would know, and would baffle the year-olds.
Mike: Wait, what? Who?
Aubrey: So, in this MauiTime piece, this is the bombshell drop paragraph, but the lead up to that is this reporter goes, "Oh, hey, I was checking into it, I've been doing some research for this piece. I didn't actually find any records of a daughter born to Paul Bragg.
Aubrey: At first, she goes, "Oh, yeah, he adopted me." I wasn't his daughter by birth. I was his daughter by adoption, so he adopted me." And then the reporter comes back and is like, "I didn't see any adoption records." And then she goes, "Oh, yeah, actually, I married into the family."
Aubrey: I was his son's wife, they were married for a few years and then got divorced.
Aubrey: "Paul and I basically really hit it off and he feels like my dad and I call him my dad and he was a family friend going way back," and da, da, da. Every time she gives him one of these partial or just fully false explanations, she tells this reporter, "You don't need to check into that. I'm not some Hollywood celebrity."
Mike: I love it when public figures are like, "I'm not a public figure."
Aubrey: I'm going to start using that in interviews.
Aubrey: "You don’t need to in fact check me. You don't need to look at it this, I'm not some-- save that for George Clooney."
Mike: That's wild that they got divorced, and they kept the weird charade going. I guess he just liked her more than his own son.
Aubrey: So they kept the weird charade going. He really did leave the company to Patricia, not to his son.
Mike: Why? Do you have a sense of why.
Aubrey: No sense. So, part of this is, this whole story has really broken and been talked about much more in the last 10 or 20 years, which is fully hundred years after Paul Bragg was born. So, we are talking about old musty dusty old records.
Aubrey: Most of the characters in these stories have passed. So, it's extremely hard to fact-check. There are some folks mostly WordPress sites and personal blogs who are like, "I found a record of their will and they cut out the son and left everything to Patricia," blah, blah, blah. There's a lot of that out in the world. What I'm trying to stick to here is stuff that we pretty well know for sure, including, there is no record of Paul wrestling in the Olympics. He said he was in the 1908 Olympics, he would have been 12 at the time. [Michael laughs]
Aubrey: There are also some Patricia claims to fact-check. Patricia is not in fact the youngest woman to hold a patent in US history.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, yeah.
Aubrey: She got a patent in 1957 when she was 28 years old for a douching device is what she created. In 1914 decades earlier, Mary Phelps Jacob later known as Caresse Crosby patented the brassiere.
Mike: Oh, really?
Aubrey: It's like you're by decades you are wrong.
Aubrey: Same thing with not the first health food store. There was a health food store fully 50 years before Bragg opened his. Not the first any of the first. All of the firsts are wrong.
Aubrey: He did a lot, and he could have been like, I did the biggest one or I did the most successful or the longest running. You could pick other superlatives. But he seemed really hooked on or the company seemed really hooked on him being the first of all of these things.
Mike: A lot of these lies have a weird Belle Gibson quality to them, where a lot of them are just baffling.
Mike: I don't know that people needed you to have been an Olympic athlete, particularly.
Aubrey: It is a perplexing set of things to mislead people about.
Aubrey: The age stuff, I get. That straight-up money in his pocket. A bunch of this other stuff, I'm just like, "What is happening here?"
Aubrey: One of the other weird, deeply weird lies that Patricia Bragg appears to tell is she talks about seeing Jack LaLanne attend her father's health lecture for the first time. And she was like, "I just watched how much he soaked that up. And it was so clear that it mattered a lot to him." And she has all these little details about how he responded to it. By her account, and by his, Jack LaLanne attended that lecture when he was 15. Jack LaLanne was 15, the year that Patricia Bragg was born.
Mike: That's a weird lie, you can just tell the story.
Aubrey: In addition to saying things that are not true. In the Bragg's story, there is a lot of leaving out of things that are true.
Aubrey: Early in the 60s, Paul Bragg was on the receiving end of an FDA seizure.
Mike: Oh, back when the FDA seized stuff. I love it.
Aubrey: According to the FDA, Paul Bragg made, "False and misleading claims to provide freedom from disease, improve youthful appearance and life expectancy, etc.; No adequate directions for use." So, they are straight up like, "He's not telling people how to use it and he's saying a bunch of shit that's not true." And as part of that seizure, he had to say that he wasn't going to make more claims about this particular product.
Aubrey: S that happened in the 60s. In 1941, he also gets in trouble with the FTC.
Aubrey: He gets in trouble for selling something called Bragg's Grass Tablets. And he gets in trouble for saying that they would, "Prevent sickness, promote health or stimulate activity," and that they were "Rich and vitamin A." So apparently, these were not rich and vitamin A, which is a very weird claim to make. And again, he had to promise that he wasn't going to make those claims again. But as we can see, 19 years later, in the 60s, he is fully doing it again up to his old tricks.
Mike: This is why we just need adequately funded and staffed federal agencies to crack down on repeat known grifters who continue grifting because there are no consequences for any of this shit.
Aubrey: Absolutely. Are you ready to take one step further back in time?
Mike: Did he lie about tuberculosis? I am on the edge of my seat about this.
Aubrey: Basically, the TV stuff is, again some amateur internet sleuths went back and looked at the immigration records from the years that he said that he left and came back and they were like, "Not one record of that guy going to Switzerland and coming back."
Aubrey: But again, that's like internet sleuths, do you know what I mean?
Aubrey: I wouldn't cite that as a hard and fast source in the same way that I wouldn't cite like Reddit threads speculating about YouTubers say as a hard and fast source. This is according to KCET, in Los Angeles. "Outside Los Angeles, Bragg was a controversial figure. In 1930, the postal service barred the self-styled 'professor' from the mail alleging fraud. The American Medical Association denounced him as a 'food faddist.'" So the US Postal Service and the American Medical Association are both like, "Boo this guy, get him out of here." And then he has 40 more years of career.
Mike: Dude, imagine getting banned from mailing things.
Aubrey: From the mail.
Mike: it's like getting banned from the grocery store or something, it's a whole genre of activity. It's a category.
Aubrey: It's extremely weird. So, the next thing I want to talk about is their charitable giving.
Mike: Of course, God I should have known that literally every single fact that you told me in the first 30 minutes, it was wrong.
Aubrey: I mean, Mike, I am sticking to the big ones here. There is debunking of truly almost every sense of the first part of this episode.
Mike: I love this.
Aubrey: So, they do indeed appear to do the giving that they have disclosed to animal shelters and missions and regular down the line kinds of charitable contributions that you would expect from this crispy crunchy peanut buttery health food company. The challenge here is that there is also giving that they are not reporting out publicly from the foundation.
Aubrey: Until they redesign every bottle and package from Bragg Live Food products has the Christian little fish symbol. It includes a Bible verse. They are deeply, deeply Christian and deeply, deeply evangelical people. In 2004 and 2005, so situate yourself in this particular cultural moment of 2004-2005, they reportedly according to MauiTime, they gave $750 to the deeply conservative Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
Mike: Oh, my God, I've been there. We went there as a kid.
Mike: We were visiting California. Yeah.
Aubrey: They give money to Crystal Cathedral Ministries.
Mike: The architecture was lovely.
Aubrey: They give money to the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Aubrey: They give money to Pat Robertson and family.
Mike: Ooh, good stuff, trying to stop the great replacement of the whites, kind of stop that.
Aubrey: They give money to Focus on the Family.
Mike: Of course. We're done with the twists now. This isn't even a fucking twist. It's the weird Christian health grifters are into nightmare Christian bullshit.
Aubrey: This was the point for me that was like, "Man, the next time I get nutritional yeast, I will be checking out some other brands.
Mike: I love the version of Christianity, where it's not okay to marry somebody who you're in love with. But it is okay to spend your entire career telling lies in order to profit.
Aubrey: Becoming a false idol.
Mike: Yeah. This seems like a cool way that you understand this religion. Awesome.
Aubrey: The last one that I wanted to talk about is actually the ways in which they misled folks through specific health claims. And particularly health claims around Apple Cider Vinegar.
Aubrey: This is something that's been popular amongst famous people in the US for the last 10ish years folks have been talking about it with the press, but it also goes back further than that. Drinking apple cider vinegar every day is favored by Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, Jennifer Aniston, Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham. Elizabeth Hurley is like, "I drink it every day. It tastes disgusting," is what she keeps telling the press.
Aubrey: Apple cider vinegar has been used in folk healing for ages. But in the US its biggest boost of popularity in the last century, mostly came from Paul Bragg.
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: Who wrote a whole fucking book about it. He suggested it for weight gain, for weight loss, for heart disease, for "female troubles," for hair loss, for kidney issues. This is like celery juice levels of claims. Basically, the evidence for some of those claims is overblown based on very limited studies by today's standards based on the evidence we have today. Most of those studies have been small and most of them have only been in rats.
Mike: Of course.
Aubrey: Most of those claims have no evidence at all. Some of them are overblown, most of them, the evidence is non-existent. There are also quite a few claims that Bragg made and that have caught on more recently about the gut health aspects of apple cider vinegar that it's good for your microbiome, blah, blah, blah. Braggs in particular prides themselves on selling unfiltered apple cider vinegar. On the package it says With the "Mother." The mother as in kombucha refers to this yeast bacteria colony that's produced during fermentation.
Aubrey: Apple cider vinegar is touted as a major source of probiotics. But, Michael, there is one catch. This is from an outstanding piece written by a food historian for Epicurious of all places.
Mike: Get some recipes, get some history.
Aubrey: Delightful. The piece is called How Americans Became Obsessed With Drinking Apple Cider Vinegar. And here is what they have to say about this claim about probiotics.
Mike: "And what about the mother? Why is she such a big deal? Technically, a vinegar mother is not a probiotic as the acetic acid bacteria that comprise it can't survive in our guts. Its main components cellulose is not digestible. Shockey and Smith point out that there could be benefits to its consumption that have yet to be measured or quantified. But many artisanal vinegar makers don't include the mother in their products because it doesn't contribute anything to the flavor." Yeah, basically, there's no reason to think this does fucking anything. But the people who are debunking it have to be careful because you can't prove a negative, you can't prove that something doesn't have magical health benefits because how would you even do that?
Aubrey: Well, and also, I feel the real fucking chestnut in that paragraph is, it's a probiotic, but that probiotic can't survive in your body.
Mike: Yeah, the gut health stuff, it's not as easy as drink bacteria and then you'll have new bacteria in your tummy.
Aubrey: No, and the science is way too fucking new to even know most of how it works, it's bonkers.
Mike: Yeah, we don't know that stuff.
Aubrey: Here's the other thing I'll say about apple cider vinegar. I won't say it. The University of Chicago School of Medicine will say it. "Aside from probiotics, apple cider vinegar has a vitamin profile similar to apple juice.
Mike: Hey, so we're drinking grape juice and apple juice on Maintenance Phase.
Aubrey: Resveratrol and probiotics.
Mike: We're finally becoming influencers, Aubrey, we're finally giving out individual health advice.
Mike: Drink apple juice and grape juice.
Aubrey: There is evidence of some of the claims related to apple cider vinegar and its health benefits. There is limited evidence that drinking apple cider vinegar after a meal may help people with diabetes moderately lower their blood sugar, but there's nothing definitive. It specifically does not according to the University of Chicago School of Medicine, help manage hypertension, which is a claim that has been made about that. It does not do that. It also can erode the enamel of your teeth. There have been some wild case studies about tooth decay of people who have been drinking straight apple cider vinegar all the time. And it is specifically very bad for people with kidney issues who may struggle to process all of the acid.
Aubrey: The University of Chicago School of Medicine is quick to point out that it's anti microbials. So, if you use it in a salad dressing, it kills the bacteria on your salad, you're welcome.
Mike: That's great. Okay, so you're un-probiotic-ing yourself by doing this.
Aubrey: It's just interesting to dive into the science on this stuff and go, "Oh, this thing that everyone I know has been yelling about for a full decade is just a weird, it is a house built on a foundation of sand."
Mike: It really feels like, if you try to piece together the timeline in chronological order of these things, what it sounds to me is that a guy who's a carnival ass grifter, basically made up this thing about apple cider vinegar, and then other people have since looked into it, and by coincidence, they have found that maybe there's a couple of benefits to this thing just because, I don't know, it's an edible substance. So, it probably has some benefits and some drawbacks everything else. And then people are now using that to backfill like, "Oh, yeah, the guy, the decades long liar guy, he was actually right but on what basis would he have said this at the time?"
Aubrey: And like what he's telling folks is a Scientific-ish explanation for what they were already doing. Again, this was part of an American folk healing tradition. If this offered people the sense that what they had already been doing was a really good thing to do, not just for their own health, but for their own virtue and character because of this sort of deeply Christian language that Paul and Patricia Bragg use. It's not just a matter of caring for your body, it's a matter of your piety and your ability to resist temptation. And all of these deeply, deeply Christian constructs.
Mike: He's selling people's pre-existing beliefs and behaviors back to them, essentially.
Aubrey: He's doing a thing that happens to this very day, which is getting very comfortable muddling up people's perceived health with their character and morality and worth as people. All of that is getting dumped into the same bucket.
Mike: It's a weird little kombucha of culture and capitalism and lies, and you just leave it there to ferment. [Aubrey laughs] I mean, what I can't get over is the specificity of apple cider vinegar. There is a million vinegars in the world. It doesn't make any sense that this would have magical properties.
Aubrey: I'll tell you what, I love the taste of apple cider vinegar.
Mike: Same. Oh, my God, I use it in rice and the salads all the time, it's really good.
Aubrey: Oh, my God, salad dressing, it's the best. I also make shrub at home.
Mike: Do you mean you're eating edibles?
Aubrey: No. [laughs] No, shrub is a drinking vinegar. It's like you infuse vinegar, you add some sugar or sweetener of your choice-
Mike: Oh, okay.
Aubrey: -and a bunch of fruit and let it macerate. And then strain out the solids and you add that to club soda or something. It's extremely refreshing and delicious.
Mike: My parents always told me if you macerate, you go blind. [Aubrey laughs] That was abysmal, I'm sorry.
Aubrey: Are you ready for a little coda to the Bragg's story?
Mike: Yeah, denou me.
Aubrey: First things first, we're just going to watch a little clip. I sent it to you in the Zoom chat.
Mike: A clip time.
Aubrey: Let me know when you're queued up and ready.
Mike: Why are we-- Oh, no. Okay. I saw it's loading slowly, and it loaded this screengrab of Orlando Bloom on Jimmy Fallon.
Aubrey: Get ready.
Mike: And then the title loaded. I was very confused but now I understand. The title of the clip is Orlando Bloom Bonded with Katy Perry over Apple Cider Vinegar.
Orlando: A crazy story. When I met Katy, one of our first days, she had a bottle of water, and when you pour it in the water, it makes it go slightly off color. And we both have bottles of apple cider vinegar, because I said, "Wait, what have you got in your water?" And she was like, "Apple cider vinegar." I was like, "No."
Jimmy: "We are made for each other."
Orlando: "This is it." And then the really crazy part is that her mother had actually been part of a church group in Santa Barbara when she was growing up. And Katy got her first guitar from Patricia Bragg, who's now 90, who runs that company. And then the crazy part is that her mom said, "You know, Patricia is getting up there and she wants to offload the company. She was about to sell it, and we were like, "No, let us get in there. Let us help. Let us find somebody." So, we brought some people in. It was a lot of money. We brought some people in to help put the money forward and then we're going to take it through to the next chapter through its life because we believe in it that much.
Mike: Aubrey, do you ever feel like a plastic bag drifting in the wind, hoping to start again? [Aubrey laughs] That's how I feel now. Don’t understand what's happening.
Aubrey: Your ears do not deceive you. The new owners of Braggs are Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom.
Mike: Legolas and I Kissed a Girl are now [Aubrey laughs] in charge of Braggs?
Aubrey: Left Shark herself and hot elf-
Aubrey: -own a company together. Not only did Patricia Bragg and Katy Perry's family go to the same church, according to one of the profiles of Patricia Bragg, so grain of salt, it was actually the church where Katy's parents were the pastors.
Mike: Oh, okay. This is now my emotions are all over the place. I don't know what to think about this shit anymore.
Aubrey: It's wild. This is a Mad Lib of a coda to the story.
Mike: I know. It's weird. It's the end of clue. It's like in the study with the candlestick, like this celebrity and this other celebrity.
Aubrey: I don't have a ton to say about Katy Perry or Orlando Bloom or Pressed Juicery.
Mike: Yeah, I have no analysis on this.
Aubrey: I have no analysis to add here.
Mike: I'm just like, "Okay."
Aubrey: It's too weird not to talk about.
Mike: Yeah. I just feel good that it's now in the hands of people who are much more qualified to prevent sickness crime. [Aubrey laughs] The Batman and sickness crime.
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