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License to Kale: A Concentrated History of Juice Crazes

From Biblical remedies to Jack LaLanne, Welch's Grape to Blake Lively, humans have always loved juice. But has juice ever loved us?
Photo by Danil Nevsky via Stocksy

It's 2016, a year during which people are willing to spend $40+ to go on something called Juice Crawl, a three-hour-long event that involves working out for an hour, "pre-gaming," and then binge-drinking up to 30 different kinds of juice. "Many were keen on being able to let loose on nothing more than juice," the New York Post reported after the very first event last year. The pub-crawl-meets-juice-lifestyle organization featured that very quote as a positive testimony on its website, alongside several photos of manic-looking participants posing in matching Juice Crawl T-shirts.


While the word most commonly evokes images of bourgie yoga instructors dropping obscene amounts of money on beverages that aren't even alcoholic, juice can refer to any liquid extracted from cells—whether those make up a tomato or a piece of chicken—and over the past few centuries, it has meant quite a few things. It's been a topical baldness remedy. It's been a wine alternative. It's even been a cure for cancer. And while we've been guzzling juice one way or another since, well, forever, we've arrived in a time where juice is no longer a beverage but a cultish lifestyle, in which more than 10,000 people will envy a photo of a lululemon-clad woman in front of a brick wall, her feet crossed to show off new salmon-colored Nikes, clutching a $10 kale-cucumber Lean Green Machine with almond-shaped, Essie-glossed fingernails. We've all seen that Instagram. At one time or another, we've all liked it. You can't help but wonder—how did we end up here?

Let there be juice!

Given that mankind has had to eat to stay alive since the beginning of time, and juice as a substance has always existed, it's impossible to put a timestamp on The First Juice. We can, however, reference the first documented juice, which dates back to sometime between 100 BC to 70 AD. According to Steven Bailey's Juice Alive: The Ultimate Guide to Juicing Remedies, the Dead Sea Scrolls recommend "a pounded mash of pomegranate and fig" to give you "profound strength and subtle form." From that point on, evidence of juicing appeared in almost all ancient civilizations: Rome, Greece, India, and on and on.


A meat juice for what ails you

Unsurprisingly, people around the world have been doing crazy shit with juice in the name of wellness for ages. In Foods That Changed History: How Foods Shaped Civilization from the Ancient World to the Present, Christopher Cumo documents some of its weirdest uses: physicians administering antiseptic garlic juice to soldiers' wounds during World War I, Bahamians rubbing onion juice on their chests to relieve congestion, 16th-century bald men "[standing] in the sun while rubbing onion juice [on] the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles."

While some of juice's uses were backed by legitimate studies—like 17th-century sailors taking spoonfuls of lemon and lime juice to prevent scurvy—others, not so much. In the 1873 book A Brief History of the Production of Valentine's Meat Juice, a man by the name of Mann S. Valentine bottled and sold meat juice, which was made up of blood and all the weird liquids one can extract from a piece of raw beef, and claimed it was a cure-all. Nauseated? Have yourself some meat juice on the rocks. Can't shit? Add some gelatin to your meat juice and make some meat juice jelly to slather on toast. Suffering from melancholia? Meat juice makes a mean enema. "Having used the 'Meat Juice' (which represents all the soluble elements of beef in the most assimilable form,) in many obstinate and almost hopeless cases of disease, I can confidently recommend it to the favorable consideration of the medical profession," J.B. McCaw, M.D., testified.


Read more: When Does 'Eating Clean' Become an Eating Disorder?

A sugary legacy

Come the late 19th century, religious figures realized how to weasel their way into the world of juice to make a profit "for God." In 1869, a New York dentist/Methodist minister by the name of Thomas Bramwell Welch recognized that Jesus-loving temperance advocates were in distress about how they couldn't drink wine at Communion because they were morally opposed to alcohol, so Welch started a side hustle producing "unfermented sacramental wine," or grape juice. But given that he didn't really know how the hell to advertise a product, his business suffered and ceased to exist just four years after it had started.

That is, until his son Charles stepped in. He changed the business's name from Dr. Welch's Grape Juice to the much cooler Welch's Grape Juice and then started advertising in publications like Collier's, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and Good Housekeeping with claims of his juice's ability to cure of everything from typhoid fever to peritonitis—"all forms of chronic diseases except Diabetes Melitus," Thomas Pinney noted in A History of Wine in America from the Beginnings to Prohibition. According to Andrew F. Smith, author of Food and Drink in American History: A 'Full Course' Encyclopedia, Welch even founded two pamphlets, The Acorn and The Progress, in which he paired bomb-ass anti-alcohol content with juice ads. Hip with the temperance movement slang, he took the popular slogan, "The lips that touch wine will never touch mine," and altered it to the very creative "The lips that touch Welch's are all that touch mine."


Suffering from melancholia? Meat juice makes a mean enema.

In 1893, Welch set up at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where thousands of people sipped his purple elixir; through all his efforts, "the American fruit juice industry was born," Smith writes. In 1913, William Jennings Bryan, secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson, organized a dinner honoring the British ambassador James Bryce, and the cups overfloweth with Welch's; in 1914, secretary of the navy Josephus Daniels banned booze on his ships and supplied sailors with grape juice instead.

But come actual Prohibition in 1920, Welch's actually suffered due to the newest cool drink on the market: soda. By this time, Daddy Welch was long gone, and in 1926, Charles died at his winter home in Auburn, Maine. In 1945, a man by the name of Jacob M. Kaplan ended up buying the business; the National Grape Cooperative Association then acquired it in 1954. With $82 million delivered in net proceeds in 2015, according to Welch's 2015 Annual Report, the sugary legacy of the father-son duo still flows through our blood today.

Dr. Vitamin

Aside from coffee, there are few drinks as closely associated with the American breakfast as orange juice. According to Cumo in Foods That Changed History, the earliest consumption of the sweet citrus juice dates back to 18th-century North America, and in the late 1880s, men in suits figured they could make a profit off it. The Southern California Fruit Exchange started in 1893—15 years later, it came to be known as Sunkist—and it flooded Americans with advertisements celebrating orange juice as a wholesome, vitamin-packed drink. According to Cumo, between 1920 and 1940, consumption of orange juice tripled—but more so than Sunkist, we have a manipulative man by the name of Elmer McCollum, dubbed Dr. Vitamin by Time magazine, to thank.

McCollum, a biochemist, made us crazy for vitamins when he made everyone lose their shit over acidosis, a condition in which you have too much acid in your bloodstream; it's caused by eating too much bread, dairy, and meat. It sounds bad! But McCollum told America not to worry—just up your lettuce and citrus fruit consumption and you'll be fine. Naturally, Sunkist used this advice as fodder for advertising. People began freaking out over oranges, and when frozen concentrated juice was patented in 1946, providing mass-market potential for orange juice for the first time ever, we were extra thirsty. Consumption of the juice tripled again between 1950 and 1960, at which time the average American was downing a disgusting 20 pounds of it per year. It was only in 1998 that consumption began to fall—perhaps it had something to do with with the fact that drinking a lot of fruit juice causes type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity.


All you need is juice

While nuclear families were busy filling their bodies with OJ, in the 1920s and 30s, a German scientist and a British businessman were independently turning juice from a wholesome drink into an actual lifestyle. Their names were Max Gerson and Norman Walker, and their names live on through an institute and a machine, respectively.

Gerson, author of 1958's A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases, told people sick with everything from cancer to migraines to stop looking for cures in evil, unnatural medicine, as the path to healing was simple: Eat three salt-free, plant-based meals a day, and then find a way to chug 13 glasses of raw carrot-apple and green juices made from only the freshest organic fruits and vegetables, a practice that came to be known as Gerson Therapy. Drinking so much super-fresh juice would've been difficult had Gerson been born a decade or few earlier, but thankfully, Walker was around. In 1936, he invented the world's first juicer: the Norwalk. He preached a lifestyle similar to Gerson's—drink a shit-ton of fresh juice and eat raw vegetables, all of which he deemed Living Food. And best of all, it was simple! Just shell out $2,500 for a Norwalk 280 and you'll quickly be alleviated of everything that ails you, except maybe credit card debt.

After the Norwalk, juice devotees and their machines kept coming. In 1955, the world got its first masticating juicer, the Champion; in 1971, musclehead Jack LaLanne created the Power Juicer; and in 1991, Jay Kordich, "the father of juicing," released the Juiceman (paging OJ da Juiceman). "About two million extractors, priced from $30 to $300, sold [in 1992], and manufacturers predict strong sales again," the New York Daily News reported in 1993. As the father of juicing said in a 2013 interview with Well + Good, "Every body is a juice machine." Unfortunately, he continued, "[M]ost bodies are really inept at getting the juice out of the plant." Instead of chewing each mouthful of Living Food the recommended 50 times, just buy a juicer. It's a small price to pay to free yourself of worry about the efficacy of your own "digestive juices."


Photo via Wikipedia

You will in fact lose weight

In the late 1990s, people started to realize that if you replace all the solid foods in your diet with protein-less, fiber-less juice, you will in fact lose weight. But it wasn't until we saw toned, dewy-faced celebrities embrace the glamorous fad diet that we started frequenting Liquiteria, Juice Press, Juice Generation, and Organic Avenue.

In the 2000s, the Internet started churning out article after article about the fitness and eating habits of our favorite celebrities (the majority of whom were women, naturally), and we became obsessed. The best part: We were able to steal their go-to juice diets. Whereas Blake Lively was a fan of the $65-a-day Blueprint Juice Cleanse, Nicole Richie, Jessica Alba, and Miranda Kerr were partial to Pressed Juicery's $199, three-day cleanse. More interested in what Kim Kardashian, Camila Alves, and Sofia Vergara are doing? Check out Ritual Cleanse, only $72 a day. "Juice announces that you are hip to the trends, part of the scene that includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek, and other toned-and-together Celebrity Juice Fans featured in Star magazine," Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote in a 2013 article on New York Magazine's The Cut. "Juice says you don't do manual labor: You make money with your fingers in the new economy, nails painted a cheery neon or pastel gel as you text."

Read more: How Toplessness Became a Bottomless Controversy

Maybe just try eating your vegetables

As soon as we hit peak juice in the early 2010s, people began to whisper: Maybe subsisting solely on pulverized vegetables isn't the best way to live.

"People see [juicing] as a time to start fresh, and juicing is often associated with detoxing or cleansing," Tricia Psota, a nutritionist at the US Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, says in the 2014 Los Angeles Times article "Health experts throw water on your juice cleanse." But, she notes, "Our GI [gastrointestinal] tract is set up to naturally detox." Earlier this year, Cosmopolitan ran the story, "Why Your Detox is Bullsh*t," citing the ridiculously high cost of juicing as well as the lack of scientific evidence of its health benefits. Earlier this month, the New York Times came in with the article "Fancy Juice Doesn't Cleanse Your Body of Toxins"—the point is in the headline. And while the Los Angeles Times reported in January 2015 that the cold-pressed juice market was pulling $100 million a year, just last fall, we watched the Collapse of the Great Organic Avenue, one of the New York juice shops that kickstarted the green juice craze in 2002—that is, until an investment firm poured money back into the business and reopened stores last week. While in no way is juicing dead, it appears that some consumers, as all consumers should, are actually thinking about their expensive lifestyles. Discovering that our juice habit is maybe not the best thing for us is just a consequence of this higher level of thinking.

Plus, watching celebrities do weird shit with juice is way more fun than sucking it down.