It was Laura Lovett who described The Popeye Principle in her detailed paper published in 2005 on the First Nutrition Crisis.* In the 1920’s, following the Great War it was not obesity that was a problem in the USA, it was malnutrition. Created by Elzie Segar, Popeye debuted on 17 January 1929 in the comic strip Thimble Theatre. In 1933, Max and Dave Fleischer adapted the characters of Popeye, his sweetheart Olive Oyl, their foundling adoptive child Sweet Pea and his arch enemy Bruto, into a series of Popeye the Sailor cartoons for Paramount Pictures. The cartoons were such a success that they ran until 1957 while the comic strip is still rerun today, 80 years later.
Other than being the star of an iconic cartoon series, a movie (played by Robin Williams), video games and hundreds of advertisements, why is Popeye of such interest? Popeye single-handedly (admittedly he does have ferocious forearm muscles!) made spinach the third most popular food in the USA after turkey and ice cream!! And it was not spinach lightly sautéed in butter and garlic and served with a juicy eye fillet, that he made so popular – it was canned spinach!!! All this with the 1930’s technology of an animated cartoon. Imagine what a clever advertising company could do now (and of course they do do now) with the post-George-Lucas-era wizardry of 21st century technology!
*Published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Vol 30 No. 5.