Walt Whitman discovered to be America’s first paleo poet


He celebrates rare beef and sings stale bread.

It turns out that Walt Whitman, the legendary “Leaves of Grass” poet who died in 1892, was a very early adopter of the “paleo diet,” a trendy food regimen that promotes meat and eschews dairy products, grains and processed foods, according to a series of columns uncovered by a University of Houston graduate student.

NPR talked to the student, Zachary Turpin, who discovered Whitman’s advice columns drafted in his own hand. Called “Manly Health and Training,” they were written under the pseudonym Mose Velsor for the New York Atlas newspaper.

Whitman’s recommended diet sounds similar to the paleo diet, which, if you have even one friend who follows it, you have likely heard about at least 100 times.


The poet urged men to eat “a simple diet of rare-cooked beef, seasoned with a little salt, and accompanied with stale bread or sea-biscuit. Mutton, if lean and tender, is also commendable. Pork should not be eaten.”

Although he was all right with a little bit of salt, Whitman advised against most condiments. And salted meats were out (sorry, jerky fans).

“Butter, pepper, catsup, oil, and most of the ‘dressings,’ must also be eschewed,” Whitman wrote. “Lobster and chicken salad, cabbage, cucumbers, and even potatoes, are to be turned away from. Salted meats are not to be partaken of either.”

Whitman didn’t make any exceptions for breakfast. “Ham, gravy, fried potatoes ... must be eschewed,” he wrote. A cup of tea was OK with him, but it “must be left till the last.”

Whitman’s columns didn’t just focus on the joys of lean mutton and stale bread. He also urged men to grow beards, which, he claimed, provide “great sanitary protection to the throat -- for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be.”

Perhaps predictably, the poet had no tolerance for people who like to sleep in. “To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, idler, the same advice. Up!” Whitman commanded. “The world (perhaps you now look upon it with pallid and disgusted eyes) is full of zest and beauty for you, if you approach it in the right spirit. Out in the morning!”


If you’re eager to read more of Whitman’s advice, you’re in luck: All of the columns have been republished in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, and can be read online.


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