1934: Henry Ford, Vegan Foods + Hemp Pioneer

As one who has processed tons of soybean into foods starting in the ’70s, and then the same for hempseed starting 25 years ago, I’m certain that if Henry Ford knew hempeed exceeded soybean in nutrition and flavor, he would have done all his food work with it instead of soya.

Hempseed tastes way better, has fewer anti-nutritional factors, is easier to process, and can even be eaten raw. From “The Secret Life of Henry Ford,” by Dahlinger and Leighton (1978), as found in “History of Soymilk,” copyright Soyinfo Center 2013:

Chapter 12, titled “Quadrapeds are out” (p. 170-77) contains extensive information about Ford’s work with soybeans and soyfoods. Ford believed that the world of the future would be a world without quadrupeds. “We don’t need horses. We’ve got the tractor. We’ve got the automobile. We don’t need cows–we can make synthetic milk. We can make meat substitutes out of soybean and coconuts–you can hardly tell the difference. We don’t need sheep. We will be able to make wool out of synthetic things–it will be better than wool.”

“As Henry Ford worked toward his great vision of a world that had no need of quadrupeds, I was his guinea pig. And I wasn’t the only one. Everyone had to eat the strange concoctions he was putting together and calling milk, meat, and vegetables, depending on their color. Soybean milk was his triumph. I had to drink it while he asked me eagerly, ‘Can you tell the difference? Isn’t that a fine glass of milk?’“

For a time, Ford was eating so much ersatz foods he was concocting that Mrs. Ford worried about his health. “Ford would eat soybean pie and drink the soybean milk that made even milk of magnesia taste good. Ford was working on a soybean body for an automobile. They used to say that if it didn’t run, Ford could eat it. Ford had a “car body built from the soil” with wheat straw, flax, and hemp that proved to be so strong it was promoted in photo sessions by whacking it with an ax.

“Ford’s ultimate triumph along the soybean line was the soybean dinner he himself dreamed up and had served at the time of the Ford exhibit at the Chicago Century of Progress Fair in August 1934.” A list of the 16 items served is given; soy ice cream is not mentioned. “I was about eleven [i.e. in about 1934] when Ford was at the peak of his excitement about soybeans. You had only to talk to him for five minutes and soybeans would enter the conversation. He kept bottles of soybean milk in our refrigerator in case he got thirsty and in case I weakened a little to drink a little too. I only drank it, however, under the greatest duress. “I still have the recipe he gave to mother for making soybean milk. The formula was developed by his chemical engineers. Soak one-half pound soybeans overnight and grind to a fine powder. Add two quarts of water and heat in a double boiler for one-half hour. Strain liquid through a fine cloth and season with a dash of salt. Add one or two tablespoons of syrup to sweeten. A dash of banana oil can also be added to make it resemble cow’s milk more closely. Ford was always shifting the formula around a trifle to see which sweetening syrup was best–maple or sorghum or honey–and whether a little more or less salt would improve the taste.

“Ford was evangelical about soybeans. He talked of how cooked soybeans tasted much better than lima beans did, and how soybean spread was much better for children than peanut butter. He advised me to try it in a soybean and jelly sandwich. “Ford urged Mother to tell our cook to use a lot of soybeans in cooking and to overcome the strong flavor of thebeans by adding plenty of onions. In his own household the cooks were ordered to sneak a few soybeans into every food on the table–into soup, salad, the peas or other vegetable of the day.

“Ford would now and then flash a letter around from some doctor or other who was grateful for Ford’s experiments with soybean milk because babies who were allergic to cow’s milk were able to use inexpensive, life saving soybean milk. And also those adults who were allergic to milk were able to enjoy puddings and things that they had never been able to enjoy before. “Incidentally, Ford’s son was named after the man who was in charge of food research at Ford, Doctor Edsel Ruddiman. Ruddiman worked in the engineering lab and was one of Ford’s favorite people. Ford, of course, worked closely with Dr. Ruddiman in maximizing the uses of soybeans.”

Ford also fancied soybean cottage cheese. “If I recall correctly, Ford at one time had twenty thousand acres of soybeans under cultivation under Dad’s direction, and it was said he was spending over a million dollars a year experimenting with the plant in various ways–as food, as plastic, as animal food, as a high-protein, low-calorie diet food, and as a source of industrial oils. Ford would brag about how there was nothing in the soybean plant that was wasted; even the stalk could be made into fiber. “As Ford saw the world of the future–and I’m sorry it didn’t come to pass–every farmer would become wealthy by running his own little factory, or ‘cottage industry,’ as Ford called it. He would produce soybeans in his field and make at least one soybean product for sale to factories or grocery stores.“ As Ford foresaw the world, farmers wouldn’t need barns. ‘With no animals, there need be no buildings on a farm except the granaries,’ he said. Except, of course, the little farm factories…” (p. 176).

Henry Ford grew marijuana [hemp] for experimental reasons. It was “enclosed by a large cyclone fence. The Ford people thought it had all been destroyed after Ford died, but some years ago they found it growing wild again” (p. 177).

“His campaign against the quadruped never quite ceased. He was forever sounding off against four-footed animals, especially those that provided meat. As early as 1919 or ‘20 he had said that the world would be better off without meat. And he further insulted the cow by calling it ‘the crudest machine in the world’” (p. 177).

Ford was as trim and lean as a split rail fence. He did not smoke or drink alcohol. He was a “health nut” and for a time he preached that sugar was dangerous (p. 78).

Ford demonstrating his vegetable car fender

2 thoughts on “1934: Henry Ford, Vegan Foods + Hemp Pioneer”

  1. Thank you for this article. My grandfather F. Leon Roberts, 71, discovered and introduced Benzol gasoline into Michigan,
    Mr. Roberts, shortly before World War 1, discovered that a discarded byproduct of coke ovens would burn and after treatment
    could be a premium gasoline. Coke ovens are used for turning coal into coke.
    In 1921, Mr. Roberts sold the idea to the Ford Motor Company, and the company in turn agreed to
    manufacture Benzol if he would become chief distributor. After Ford took over the manufacture of the gasoline, Mr. Roberts turned the sale of the discarded product
    into a million-dollar business in Detroit.

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