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

by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

ęCopyright 2011 Soyinfo Center, Lafayette, California

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One interesting soyfood of international and historical importance, developed in Los Angeles, California shortly after World War II, was Multi-Purpose Food (MPF). The two men behind this innovative product were Clifford E. Clinton and Dr. Henry Borsook.

Early Years (1900 to 1939). Born on 3 Aug. 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 their three 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 a "Penny Cafeteria" 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 restaurateur 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 enlisting the assistance of Dr. Henry Borsook, a prominent research biochemist at the California Institute of Technology (Calech). 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 having little or no 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 and for meeting Clifton's policy of "No guest need go hungry for lack of funds." Borsook, starting in the kitchen rather than in the test tube, hired a skilled French cook, Mme. Soulange Berczeller (probably not related to the great European soy flour pioneer Laszlo Berczeller). By late 1944 Dr. Borsook 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 only 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 without obligation to any interested parties (De Kruif 1945). Gratified by 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 turned to the public for its funds. The first MPM (composed of 68.0% of soy grits, 23.4% dehydrated vegetables, and 8.6% seasonings) was made by two companies in Los Angeles: C.B. Gentry Co. and F.W. Bolz Corp. (Soybean Digest, Dec. 1945). In the late 1950s, however, the product was reformulated to contain simply toasted soy protein (TSP, toasted defatted soy grits) fortified with vitamins and minerals. This new Multi-Purpose Food 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 was made in Minneapolis by General Mills until 1980. In an era when protein malnutrition was considered the basis of world hunger, MPF was 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." (Lough 1969) Albert Schweitzer 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" (MFM News Briefs, Sept. 1986).

MFM's early professional image, however,was not quite so shining. The executive director and co-director of MFM from its founding until 1965 were Florence Rose and Ernest Chamberlain; they were largely responsible for creating MFM image and reputation. Both were tireless and selfless workers for the good of those less fortunate than themselves. With boundless energy, faiith, and relentless determination, Florence took orders from around the world, then came home to raise the money form the American public to buy more MPF. They ran an international non-governmental organization with relatively little hierarchical structure and formal policies - one that could innovate, take risks, move quickly as new opportunities arose. Yet this relative lack of structure, formal policies, and supervision by a board of directors was also a problem that MFM constantly had to face as it sought membership in and acceptance by larger associations (H.R. Roberts 1967, p. 277-80).

According to Edmond Clinton, a co-founder himself, early director and officer of the Foundation, Florence Rose and Ernest Chamberlain were in large measure responsible for the survival of MFM during those early, hectic, formative years (personal communication, June 1984).

MFM developed a mixed reputation in Washington, DC, where there was little interest there in helping to distribute the product to those who unquestionably needed it. USDA, US AID, and UNESCO were largely uncooperative before the mid-1960s.

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 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 of food shipments and an increase of 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 technical advisor, 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, 15 miles west of 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 showed respect for the new work of MFM and 1973 gave 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 protein-rich food supplements from their own indigenous 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 introducing and/or expanding soybean production was done in Ecuador (on the Santa Elena Peninsula) and Thailand.

In 1979 Meals for Millions merged with the American Freedom from Hunger Foundation, an organization started in 1961 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy to educate the American public about hunger issues and to encourage volunteerism. 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 Meals for Millions / Freedom from Hunger Foundation relinquished its training center in Santa Monica and moved to Davis, California 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%).

In 1984 President Ronald Reagan awarded Meals for Millions the Presidential World Without Hunger Award for "continued, demonstrated vision, initiative and leadership in the effort to achieve a world without hunger."

In January 1988 the organization officially changed its name to "Freedom from Hunger Foundation" and created Credit with Education, which combines access to small business loans with education for groups of women in the developing world. In September 1991 the name was shortened to "Freedom from Hunger."

During the four 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, had pioneered a new concept in the use of soy flour and grits that others would expand on dramatically during the 1960s and beyond, and had become a leader in value-added microfinance.

Today. As of Oct. 2010, Freedom from Hunger works through in-country partners to reach millions of women and families in the developing world with self-help solutions to hunger and poverty. You can learn more at www.freedomfromhunger.org or by contacting them at (800) 708-2555.