The Meals for Millions Foundation and Multi-purpose Food: Work with Soyfoods

A Special Exhibit - The History of Soy Pioneers Around the World - Unpublished Manuscript

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

ęCopyright 2004 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

One interesting soyfood of international and historical importance, developed in California shortly after World War II, was Multi-Purpose Food (MPF, initially called Multi-Purpose Meal). The man behind this innovative product was Clifford Clinton.

Early Years (1900 to 1939). Born in 1900, Clifford E. Clinton was raised in China, the son of self-supporting missionary parents. There, at an impressionable age, he saw the ravaging effects of hunger on the people of China. He later recalled that "The exposure to the starving and the mass of permanently crippled by the diseases of malnutrition was an impossible truth to accept" (Lough 1969). Later the family returned from China, and during the 1920s young Clinton worked at his father's restaurant in San Francisco. Then in 1931 he and his dedicated wife, Nelda Patterson, and children moved to Los Angeles, where they opened the first Clifton's Cafeteria at 6th and Olive. There, in the midst of the Depression, they offered to feed anyone who was hungry. They later recalled: "We had a moral obligation to fulfill our promise. We offered a full, standard meal--soup, salad, entree, dessert--for which people could pay 5 cents if they could afford it, or nothing if they could not. You see, we believe that the Golden Rule does work." Thousands came, but the Clintons never turned a person away. Swamped with people, they soon had to open another branch just to handle the needy, so that their paying customers could eat in peace (Lough 1969).

A Way to Feed the World (1940 to 1965). The Clintons continued both their restaurant business and charitable work into the 1940s. Both were very successful. In 1943 Clifford Clinton, now considered a wealthy restauranteur and philanthropist, was serving as a food consultant for the War Department and UNRRA. He foresaw the threat of hunger in postwar Europe and realized that he had to find a way to combat it. He and his wife began by visiting Dr. Henry Borsook, a prominent research biochemist at the California Institute of Technology. Borsook's chief interest was protein synthesis. Clinton told Borsook: "This is what I want. This is what I must have--a product that will provide one-third of a day's full nutrition in each two ounces. It must not offend any religious dietary law and must make no significant drain on supplies of accustomed food. Production costs should make it available to people of very low income (under 5 cents a meal). It must have a long shelf life, require no refrigeration and be palatable whether served hot or cold" (Lough 1969). The Clintons then provided a monetary grant to Borsook to research and develop such a food for relief feeding. Borsook, starting in the kitchen rather than in the test tube, hired a skilled French cook, Mme. Soulange Berczeller (apparently related to the great European soy flour pioneer Laszlo Berczeller; see Chapter 53). By late 1944 she had developed a highly acceptable Multi-Purpose Meal (MPM). This scientifically formulated mix consisted of 68% defatted or low fat soy grits plus dehydrated potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, leeks, parsley, and spices, and was fortified with vitamins and minerals. Ready after 30 minutes of simmering in water, a 64 gram dry portion provided most of a tasty, nutritious meal for one person at a cost of only 3-5 cents. No patents were applied for; the formula and know-how were offered free to anyone interested (De Kruif 1945). After seeing the results of adding this supplement to a one-bowl rice dish at Clifton's Cafeteria in the mid-1940s, the Clintons decided that it was time to create a new organization to administer the use of the new food in relief operations worldwide.

In 1946 they founded the nonprofit Meals for Millions Foundation, without endowment. Its first headquarters were in the basement of Clifton's Cafeteria at 648 S. Broadway in Los Angeles. Mr. Clinton funded MFM for the first few years; thereafter it had to turn to the public for its funds. The first MPM, made of soy grits and dehydrates vegetables, was produced by Gentry Foods??, a food dehydrating company. In the early 1950s, however, the product was reformulated to contain simply toasted defatted soy grits or flour fortified with vitamins and minerals. Renamed Multi-Purpose Food, it contained 50% protein and was completely pre-cooked; a 2-ounce serving provided 40% of the daily recommended protein allowance and one-third or more of the requirements for 10 major vitamins and minerals for a 154 pound (70 kg) adult male. MPF came to be produced in Minneapolis by General Mills, which made it until 1980. In an era when protein malnutrition was considered the basis of world hunger, MPF came to be viewed as a concentrated protein supplement that could be incorporated into many indigenous foods.

Meals for Millions had an excellent image among the general public, in large part because of the early faith and generosity of the Clintons, and later from recognition and praise by famous people. Pearl Buck, an early director, based a character in her popular novel God's Men on Clifford Clinton. Eleanor Roosevelt invited the Clintons to her apartment in New York to learn more about their work. Clinton later recalled: "I remember we all sat on the floor, cooking up a batch of MPF over the flame of a candle. She was so enthusiastic." (Ref??) Albert Schweitzer (Ref??) told the Clintons when they visited his hospital in Gabon, Africa: "The lepers' sores heal more rapidly after servings of MPF." Dr. Tom Dooley at his hospital in Laos called MPF "My third arm." Unfortunately MFM's early professional image was not nearly so shining. The Executive Director of MFM from its founding until 1965 was Florence Rose, who was largely responsible for creating this professional image. As a co-worker described her: "She trotted around the world with a carpet bag full of Meals For Millions literature, elbowed her way in to see heads of governments and top officials, and tried to badger them into working with her. Administrators and professionals laughed at her, and eventually hoped she wouldn't come around" (Sterner 1984, personal communication). MFM developed a poor reputation in Washington and there was little interest there in helping to distribute Multi-Purpose Food to those who unquestionably needed it. Clearly Florence Rose meant well, and with boundless energy she took orders from around the world, then came home to raise the money from the public to buy more MPF from General Mills.

From September 1946 until 1955 the Foundation distributed the equivalent of more than 36 million 56-gm (2-ounce) meals of MPF (2,016 tonnes total) to 86 needy nations via 126 relief and welfare organizations, chief among them the United Rescue Mission. Actually, virtually all of the food was shipped in sealed #10 cans, mostly to missionaries, doctors, and the like who operated soup kitchens, hospitals, or clinics. In the peak years of distribution in the mid-1960s, shipments were roughly 50 to 90 metric tons a year . . . never a very large amount by typical relief standards. Yet MPF garnered widespread publicity for soy and for the concept of relief feeding. It was of major historical significance as the forerunner by about 15 years of the second generation of soy fortified foods, the cereal-legume blends, such as Bal Ahar in India (which was inspired by MPF??) and Incaparina in Central America, which were developed in the early 1960s. These were followed by the USDA-AID cereal-soy blends (such as CSM and WSB) in the mid-1960s, then the low-cost extrusion cooker products in the mid-1970s.

1966 to 1976. During the first 20 years of its existence, MFM was involved only with the distribution of Multi-Purpose Food. But by 1965 it was realized that handing out free food was not a lasting solution to improving the health, nutrition, and general lot of the poor in Third World countries. This led to a decrease food shipments and increase work on technology transfer and the development of self-help food production and training programs with Third World countries.

In 1966 Mark Sterner was hired as the new program head, to implement the switchover from relief to development and to create a more professional reputation for Meals for Millions. In 1967 the organization moved into new headquarters in Santa Monica, next to Los Angeles. In 1968 Sterner and MFM received the Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award. By 1969 soy-based MPF was being manufactured in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and Korea in plants run by local people, with technical assistance from the Foundation (Soybean Digest, Nov. 1969). In the early 1970s MFM developed a new slogan to characterize its work, "Self-help for a Hungry World," and a new logo showing a combination rice bowl/world hemisphere with plants growing in it. By the early 1970s AID (U.S. Agency for International Development) in Washington had gained respect for the new work of MFM and in about 1973 began to give the program $1.3 million a year, which launched a new era. Other money was obtained for building a workshop, laboratories, and classrooms at the Santa Monica headquarters. During the 1970s many students came from around the world to the Foundation's pilot plant and training center in Santa Monica to learn how to process their own protein-rich food supplements from their own food resources. By 1974 MFM had started to develop its own low-cost extrusion cooker; with the help of a USAID grant, a prototype unit was ready by 1976. Costing $10,000 to build, it had a capacity of 50-100 kg/hr and could be built and used in Third World countries. Important changes in standard extruder designs were also made (such as interrupting the flight to give greater ease of use and quality control), which were later adopted by other manufacturers (Sterner 1976). Roughly six of these MFM extruders were built and used in developing countries, including Korea and Thailand. In addition, both extrusion cooking and soymilk production were taught at the MFM school. This practical program of technology transfer and training made solid progress, yet several overseas projects ended in failure. The major work with soy was done in Korea and Ecuador, some of it by Sterner's son, Hank (Sterner 1976; Bray 1979).

1976 to 1980s. In 1976 Mark Sterner left MFM and Peter Davies took over. Thereafter the emphasis shifted to overseas applied nutrition programs. Work with soyfoods declined, but some work with intruducing and/or expanding soybean production was done in Ecuador (on the Santa Elena Peninsula) and Thailand. In 1980 the last Multi-Purpose Food was manufactured and distributed. That same year the first two overseas training programs were launched in Sierra Leone and Antigua. In late 1982 MFM moved to Davis, California, no longer needing its training center in Santa Monica and wanting to be near a major university with progressive programs in nutrition, food science, and agriculture. Housed in a beautiful new building, it had a 1982 budget of $1.84 million and programs around the world. Major sources of income were the general public (36%), foundations and corporations (27%), and USAID (25.7%). During the 4 decades since its origins in the mid-1940s, the Meals for Millions Foundation, built on the charitable vision of two people and relying largely on public support, had made a major contribution to relieving local and world hunger, and had pioneered a new concept in the use of soy flour and grits that others would expand on dramatically during the 1960s and thereafter.