The American Pageant (Bailey, Kennedy, Cohen, 2006) on p. 507 remarks:

...regular Republicans denounced Greeley as an atheist, a communist, a free-lover, a vegetarian, a brown-bread eater...

What does "brown-bread eater" mean? Why is this an insult? Google did not help to explain this.

  • Supply a fuller citation including the year of publication? Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 3:21
  • 1
    Why do atheist, communistsm vegetarian... is? ;)
    – Averroes
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


In that time (the quote comes from 1872), brown-bread was just recently introduced as having any benefits for health. Edward Smith started to promote brown-bread in his book "Practical dietary for families, schools, and the laboring classes", released in 1865 in London. Earlier it was treated as worse (because of ingredients) and commonly used as a meal for peasants and poor people. It had a bad fame among higher classes and when some people in United States started to favor it, it could be seen as just another example of liberal philosophy and lack of respect to traditions of conservative society.

What's more, there were times in history when brown and white bread was restricted for different groups of people. The linked website provides following informations, based on book "In The Devil's Garden. A Sinful History of Forbidden Food", written by Stewart Lee Allen (2002):

The Italians had divided social classes between those that ate white bread called "Bread Mouths" vs. those that ate dark bread called "Fodder Mouths." Just like with the French, the aristocrats ate the white bread only. The Roman elite would attack someone if they offered them a slice of dark bread. Caesar even made it a law that stated that anyone who served an aristocrat dark bread was to be punished with prison time.

In 1775, Philippe Cordelois, a shoemaker, was arrested in his home by the King's men. He was charged with "possession of a crouton of bread that was absolutely brown" and taken to the interrogation building below the du Chatelet (today a metro station). Why was this brown bread so bad evidence against him?

Just like the Italian peasants, the French peasants also ate only coarse, dry and barely breads. It was believed that the peasants were slightly above pigs in those days. While, the aristocrats had very touchy digestive systems and could only deal with eating the softest breads that were well-buttered. The only exception is the French Army, which was allowed to eat white bread only after they revolted when given rye.

Here's another fragment, regarding connection between brown-bread and political matters, as asked by Mark:

This whole thing was so ridiculous that even Marie Antoinette came out with a statement. "If the peasants were unhappy with their bread, why didn't they just eat cake?" Ironically, in 1793, just a month after she said this, she was beheaded and the National Assembly voted to create a National Bread of Equality.

Once the revolution got into full force, political correctness took over. Suddenly, white was out. Proletariat brown was in. Political groups protested against the class separation caused by la mollesse (luxury white breads) and urged that it be banned to create some uniformity. Court records of this time show who some bakers were arrested for politically incorrect baking.

  • I'm not sure that I understand the relationship to libertarian philosophy. Could you clarify how the reputation of brown bread relates to liberal/conservative/libertarian?
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 14:05
  • Well, the same way as being an atheist or a vegetarian. But remember it's just my theory. I believe that it could be a kind of disgrace for a gentleman to eat brown bread, which for many years was treated as something worse and also very cheap. Considering that in Europe it was given out for free to poor, in US it could be a typical food for slaves, and it's just few years after American Civil War. But I don't have any sources to defend such hypothesis. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 15:02
  • OK, I've found nice article to defend my thesis, so I'm updating the answer in a minute. Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 15:16
  • I think that the distinction you're drawing is between liberal and conservative, not between libertarian and conservative. Even that distinction is suspect however, because the examples you cite are class based, not political. I wonder if "Bourgeausie" and "elitist" might not be more useful. Just for the record, I don't disagree with your answer; I'm just testing my understanding of the terms.
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 27, 2013 at 19:01
  • You're right. Rethinking everything once again, in fact I've meant libertine, not libertarian (but maybe liberal is better for this situation). What's funny, thinking of that in my language, I use the words I think of, the problem comes when I start to think of it in English. Thanks for clarifying. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 6:39

Courtesy of Billy Joel's Uptown Girl:

I'm gonna try for an uptown girl 
She's been living in her white bread world 
As long as anyone with hot blood can 
And now she's looking for a downtown man 
That's what I am

A white bread girl is of course a pampered suburban princess, while the Billy Joel's downtown man protagonist is clearly, by way of contrast, meant to also be brown-bread man. The metaphor stands for skin colour as well as economic means, and the derogatory euphemism of the phrase long predates the 1983 date on the song, such as in the famous insults tossed by Grant' Republicans towards Horace Greely in the 1872 Presidential campaign:

In the mud-spattered campaign that followed, regular Republicans denounced Greeley as an atheist, a communist, a free-lover, a vegetarian, a brown-bread eater, and a cosigner of Jefferson Davies's bail bond.


In this context it almost certainly means "health nut." It also has connotations of offensive puritanism in terms of dictating diets to others. Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier on the dietary choices of the 1930s British working class should be illustrative here.

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