- 1: food; especially : a suspension or solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption
- 2: intellectual sustenance
- 3: something (as writing or speech) that is insipid, simplistic, or bland
Pablum is a processed cereal for infants originally marketed by the Mead Johnson Company in 1931. The trademarked name is a contracted form of the Latin word pabulum, meaning "foodstuff", which had long been used in botany and medicine to refer to nutrition, or substances of which the nutritive elements are passively absorbed. The aspect of passivity had already given a negative connotation to metaphorical uses of the word pabulum, and the marketing of Pablum influenced the usage to refer to something bland, mushy, unappetizing, or infantile, and thus (paradoxically) with little worthwhile content.
Pablum was developed by Canadian pediatricians Frederick Tisdall, Theodore Drake, and Alan Brown, in collaboration with nutrition laboratory technician Ruth Herbert (all of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto), along with Mead Johnson chemist Harry H. Engel. The cereal marked a breakthrough in nutritional science: it helped prevent rickets, a crippling childhood disease, by ensuring that children had sufficient vitamin D in their diet.
Although neither Pablum nor its biscuit predecessor was the first food designed and sold specifically for babies, it was the first baby food to come precooked and thoroughly dried. The ease of preparation made Pablum successful in an era when infant malnutrition was still a major problem in industrialized countries.
Pablum Mixed Cereal was made from a mixture of ground and precooked wheat (farina), oatmeal, yellow corn meal, bone meal, dried brewer's yeast, and powdered alfalfa leaf, fortified with reduced iron — providing an assortment of minerals and vitamins A, B1, B2, D, and E. Pablum is palatable and easily digested without causing side effects like diarrhea or constipation. It is also unlikely to cause allergic reactions, as it does not contain eggs, lactose or nuts of any kind (although it may contain wheat and corn, either of which can be allergenic for some individuals).
For a period of 25 years, the Hospital for Sick Children and the Toronto Pediatric Foundation received a royalty on every package of Pablum sold. In 2005, the Pablum brand was acquired by the H. J. Heinz Company.