Alvenia Fulton: A Pioneer in the Health and Wellness Industry

By A.J. Muhammad, Librarian III
May 18, 2018
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Alvenia Fulton and Roberta Flack

Alvenia Fulton and Roberta Flack, Chicago Daily Defender, March 29, 1971

Researchers from across the country often call and email to inquire about the The Fasting Primerby Dr. Alvenia Fulton, the late Chicago based entrepreneur, newspaper columnist, and radio talk show host, known as the "Dietitian to the Stars." Her 1970s-published guide, which is housed in the Schomburg Center’s Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, details the benefits of fasting from a holistic perspective. The report also includes a plan to help those who are new to fasting get started. Fulton may not be a household name but in the mid-20th century she had a legion of devotees and clients from around the world. 

Alvenia Fulton was born circa 1907 in Pulaski, Tennessee.  Her 1999 obituary in the Chicago Tribunestates that prior to Fulton’s career in health and naturopathy, she was a seminary graduate and, later, pastor.

Fulton’s life took a turn after her bout with ulcers in the mid-1950s. Rather than being treated by western medicine, Fulton opted to try a method she had heard about: a juice made from raw cabbage. She credited that approach with healing her of the ulcers in 13 days.

Fulton would later travel to the Midwest, where she earned degrees in nutrition and ultimately received a doctor of naturopathy degree. By the late 1950s, Fulton became a vegetarian and relocated to Chicago. From her home, she established and operated the Better Living Health Club where members learned how to lose weight and detox. The demands on the business were so great that Fulton outgrew her home work space and opened Fultonia’s Health Food Center on Chicago’s south side. With the help of a loan, she was able to renovate the space so patrons could get vegetarian meals, drinks from a juice bar, healthcare products, and advice from Fulton herself.

Word of mouth about Fulton and her knowledge of all things nutrition, dieting, and healthy living spread; soon, celebrities including Redd Foxx, Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Flack, Ruby Dee, Michael Caine, and Godfrey Cambridge came knocking. 
In the 1960s, Fulton developed a long relationship with comedian and civil rights activist, Dick Gregory. Gregory consulted with Fulton regarding the many fasts he observed, including one that lasted for 54 days, to bring attention to causes such as racial and social injustice, and America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam. In 1984, a New York Amsterdam Newsarticle reported that when Gregory signed a $100 million contract for the marketing rights to a product called Dick Gregory Slim Safe Bahamian Diet, Gregory granted $1 million each to a selection of charitable organizations, scholars, and others including Fulton "to study fasting, hunger, starvation, malnutrition, and good nutrition."

In addition to heading her own company, Fulton wrote a weekly column called "Eating for Strength and Health" that was published by the Chicago Daily Defender, and hosted a local radio program called "The Joy of Living." She also authored Vegetarianism: Fact or Myth? Eating to Live, Radiant Health Through Nutrition and, along with James McGraw, co-edited Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet For Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature! 

Fulton, who lived to be 92 years old, reportedly had her share of detractors and skeptics, including doctors who practice traditional mecidine. In a 1982 Cleveland Call and Post article, Fulton said, "Doctors don't bother me. Only 28 percent (of doctors) have had nutrition courses in school. That means 72 percent know absolutely nothing about what I'm talking about. Besides, I have doctors taking my program." 

Here's to the possibility of a full-length work that examines Fulton and the impact she had on her community as an African American woman trailblazer in the fields of nutrition and health. Until then, researchers can consult her books on fasting, vegetarianism, and other primary resources in the Schomburg's Research and Reference Division. These resources document the role Fulton played in the growth of the vegetarian and healthy eating movement within the United States during the 20th century.