Food For Thought: Otto Carque’s Quest for Optimal Health With the Natural Foods of California Bulletin, 12 July 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For about three decades, Otto Carque (pronounced Car-Kay) was a well-known figure in Los Angeles for his persistent advocacy for vegetarianism, raw foods, exercise, and naturopathic and chiropractic medical treatment. While he might have been seen as an outlier and fringe figure when he first made news in Los Angeles around 1906, that was also the year of the passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act and, by the Roaring Twenties, he was a regular fixture in Angel City newspapers promoting his ideas and products through his Carque Pure Food Company, Carque Shops and Mensana Hollywood Health Home.

The featured object from the Museum’s holdings for this post is the first issue of his “Natural Foods of California Bulletin,” which, along with pamphlets and books, was another method by which the “food scientist” sought to propagate his work. It includes a front page article on fruit in summer menus, a home economics section of recipes, a Carque Question Box with answers to queries, and a back page set of ads for products sold by his firm.

Los Angels Record, 1 June 1906.

Carque was born in 1866 in Mannheim on the western border of Baden-Württemburg, south of Frankfurt, in what, when he was four years old became a united German state. He remained there until his departure in April 1889 for New York, where the confectioner lived for at least seven years and where he became in American citizen in 1896. Carque also worked for a time as a wine merchant before he headed west to Los Angeles, where the first location of him was in 1906 as a vegetarian crusader. The Los Angeles Record of 1 June quoted him as saying,

All meat is bad, even at its best, and if everyone stopped eating it there would be no tainted meats on the market [think here of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel of the era, The Jungle], and the stockyards would have to shut down.

The slaughter house has always been a constant source of immorality, brutality, disease, murder and war, and it will never be anything else.

It may not come as a surprise that, when Carque registered to vote in Los Angeles County, he identified as a Socialist. Despite his political leanings, he quickly became a regular presence in the conservative Republican Los Angeles Times and his ideas were championed by Harry Ellington Book and his regular feature “Care of the Body.”

Carque appears to be the man in the middle with the number “5” pinned to his chest in this photo of entrants in the Mount Wilson Trail run, Los Angeles Herald, 30 April 1908.

One of Carque’s biggest early projects was the raising of grapes for the manufacture of juice without the aid of any preservatives, while his writings focused on all kinds of topics relating to fruit drying without sulfur, the effect of the climate on bodily functions, diet for children and adults, and all manner of topics related to food and health.

In August 1912, he and a group incorporated the Carque Pure Food Company, which, inside of a year, began to have its health food products available to the public through such notable stores as Arthur Letts’ The Broadway. In 1912, he was on the board of directors for a Socialist cooperative utopian venture just a mile north of the town of Puente and not far from the Homestead called Fellowship Farm, though it is unclear how long he remained involved as, the following year, he advertised for the sale of a bungalow at “Lucky Baldwin Park,” though that might have referred to the new town of Baldwin Park.

Mention of Carque Pure Food Company juice demonstrations held at The Broadway department store, Los Angeles Express, 30 April 1913

Carque was also known in his earlier years in Los Angeles as a “husky vegetarian,” especially for his intense fitness regimen, which included carrying a pack weighing 50 pounds and tromping up and down trails in the San Gabriel Mountains, during the so-called “Great Hiking Era.” For at least three years he competed in a Mount Wilson Trail run from the base of the mountains at Sierra Madre to the top of the peak, though he doesn’t appear to have finished near the top of the entrants—then again, he was in his forties and most runners were probably half his age or not much older than that.

He was an organizer of the Globe Hygienic Circle, set up for “the scientific study of health” and the use of scientific principles to prevent disease, with grand plans for a college, training school and study clubs. Carque was the first president and the group adopted the motto of “Radiate health to all parts of the globe.” As mentioned above, he spoke frequently to community groups on health food and healthy living and did this until not long before his death and gave many talks and prepared raw food dinners for the Get Acquainted Club in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times, 31 June 1926.

Carque was also passionate about passing along his principles through pamphlets, booklets and books, including the “epoch making” 540-page 1923 tome, printed by the Times-Mirror Press and which was called Rational Diet. Seven years later, he wrote what he marketed as his “masterpiece,” this being The Key to Rational Dietetics. The Natural Foods of California Bulletin was another means to get this philosophy out to the public, though it is not known how long it was kept in publication.

There was a health food manufacturing plant established at the southern edge of Hollywood near to Hancock Park and, by the early Twenties, the Carque Shops for retail sale included an initial location near Westlake (now MacArthur Park), the Hollywood site mentioned above, a downtown store at Flower and 8th streets, and, lastly, a location on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Cahuenga Boulevard. Sold were dried fruits, unsalted nut butter, whole-grain cereal, fruit candy with honey, natural laxatives and, of course, the proprietor’s publications.

Times, 15 May 1927.

In addition to frequent appearances in the Times, Carque had regular features on food and health in the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News and some examples included his concerns about overeating as the greatest evil, the use of white flour, the dangers of white sugar, the essential benefits of a vegetable diet for the betterment of the human race, and much more. Brook, in 1917 and again in 1920, cited a table from Carque about how much more productive and less wasteful growing fruits and vegetables were per acre than what was done for cattle ranching for beef, with Brook writing in 1917,

The time will certainly come—indeed, it has already arrived—when we can no longer afford to raise range cattle. After that, stock cattle will have to go. Then, perhaps, in [the] course of thousands of years, the earth may become too populous to raise grain. But even then mankind need not starve.

This was because Carque’s table showed that walnuts, potatoes, peaches, apples and, especially, bananas produced far more pounds per acre and fed a much greater population per square mile than wheat and certainly many times more than range cattle. Echoing the popularity of the small farm movement, utilized at Fellowship Farm and other “utopias” in greater Los Angeles, it was asserted that a family of five could easily grow all the fresh food that was needed on just an acre, exclusive of house, barn, outbuildings, a garden and other elements.

In November 1927, the 61-year old married Lillian Reicher, who was less than half his age and who was working as an assistant in his business after they met in New York City where he was lecturing as part of a national tour. Within a few months, Mrs. Carque’s Cook Book was issued and Lillian began to give presentations and take a more active role with the company. There was a noticeable slowdown in media references by the end of the Twenties ad, with the onset of the Great Depression, a retrenchment with the store side, which left one location in downtown Los Angeles and, by 1932, it appears that was shuttered, as well, as the worst of the Depression came into being.

On 5 January 1935, the 68-year old Carque was at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue, apparently waiting for a streetcar when he was hit by a car. Despite a crushed chest, he survived for five days at the county general hospital before succumbing to his injuries. He was still operating a processing plant on Maple Street in what is now the Fashion District not far from today’s Interstate 10 not far from his home.

Hollywood Citizen News, 10 January 1935.

A month after his death, the Times in its “Care for the Body” section, which continued long after Brook’s death more than a decade prior, provided a lengthy encomium for Carque including,

Otto Carque’s name on a food was virtually a warranty of its purity. He as the first to storm against the chemical pollution of foods—their adulteration with the various vicious preservatives.

He had a keener knowledge of soils, of foods and their values, of ways and methods of maintaining good health through diet, than perhaps any other man in this country today.

In spite of his being nearly seventy years of age, one could find him doing his fourteen to sixteen hours’ work each day, supervising, directing, and doing the manual labor incident to distribution of his foods which have reached nationwide circulation.

The sick and the well owe much to Otto Carque as a pioneer, as one unflinching in his zeal for their interests.

A pioneer of California has passed. A greater pioneer for the welfare of mankind has gone over the line.

Someday we shall really know and understand what Otto Carque for what he was—one of the nation’s greatest champions for better health, pure food, [and] correct scientific research.

Care of the Body, its readers, and its followers pause, thus, to do him this last homage.

Lillian Reicher Carque, who had no children with him and who did not remarry, carried on the business into the 1940s and lived to be 98 years old, dying in July 1998, having spanned nearly the entirety of the 20th century. The Homestead’s collection has a 1925 Natural Foods book by Carque, a 1922 price list for the company’s products, and the 1928 cookbook under Lillian’s name, so we’ll look, in a future post, to highlight these as part of the “Food for Thought” series.

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