“Risk on the Table: Food, Health, and Environmental Exposures,” March 10–11, 2017, Princeton University

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March 10, 2017 to March 11, 2017
New Jersey, United States
Subject Fields: 
History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Environmental History / Studies

“Risk on the Table: Food, Health, and Environmental Exposures”

March 10–11, 2017, Princeton University

Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies & Program in History of Science

Organized by Angela N. H. Creager (Princeton) and Jean-Paul Gaudillière (CERMES3, Paris)


Theme: The purity and safety of the food supply is an old issue, for ordinary people, experts, and state authorities. However, the so-called chemo-gastric revolution and the industrialization of agriculture catalyzed a new set of controversies about the risks of food, especially after World War II. Several developments were implicated in these debates, including the reporting of health issues in the media; the proliferation of synthetic chemicals as additives, preservatives, pesticides, drugs, and packaging; the biological selection of newly pathogenic bacteria by use of antibiotics and containment facilities in agriculture; and improved techniques for detecting minute levels of contaminants along with new understandings of health hazards for low-dose exposures. This workshop will examine the confluence of hazards and concerns that characterize the preoccupation with risk in food, focusing in particular on two issues: (1) the impact of industrialization on the nature of food—and how it was perceived, and (2) the changing modes of identifying and objectifying dangers, particularly from the sciences of nutrition and toxicology. We expect the papers to illuminate these larger debates and controversies by considering trajectories of specific nutrients and contaminants, including regulatory responses and their limits.


Note: All sessions will be held in 211 Dickinson Hall and all coffee breaks in 210 Dickinson Hall.


Friday March 10

1:30 Welcome

Angela Creager & Jean-Paul Gaudillière, co-organizers

1:45–4:00 Session 1 – Modeling, experimenting, classifying food risks

Soraya de Chadarevian, “Radioactive Diet: Food, Metabolism and the Environment, c. 1960”

Victoria Lee, “Wild Toxicity, Cultivated Safety: Aflatoxin and Kōji Classification”

Hannah Landecker, “The Food of our Food: Medicated Feed and the Industrialization of Metabolism”

4:00–4:15 Coffee break

4:15­–5:45 Session 2 – Inventing and reinventing food risks

Matthew Smith, “Canaries in a Coal Mine?  Food Allergy as a Disease of Civilisation”

Heather Paxson, “Food Risk at the Border: Adulteration or Customary Practice”


Saturday March 11

9:00–10:30 Session 3 – Mobilization and expertise around contaminants

Sarah Vogel and Maricel Maffini, “We are what we eat: The US regulatory system for chemicals in food”

Aurelien Feron, “PCBs in food: Knowledge, mobilizations and public action in France (1975-2015)” 

10:30–10:45 Coffee break

10:45­–12:15 Session 4 – Industrial agriculture, antibiotics and food risks

Delphine Berdah, “Bacterial resistances to antibiotics in farm animals, a 'false problem' for humans? Expert debates and disinhibitions in France in the second half of the 20th century”

Claas Kirchhalle, “Between bacteriology and toxicology: ­Agricultural antibiotics and the changing world of FDA risk regulation (1949-1985)”

12:15–2:00 lunch

2:00–4:15 Session 5 - Impossible regulation

Nathalie Jas, “New tools for new problems. Shaping specifications for food additives and contaminants in the FAO/WHO and the EEC in the 1960s and 1970s”

Heiko Stoff, “Chemopolitics of Cancer-Causing Substances in the 1950s”

Xaq Frohlich, “‘Economic Adulteration’ or Even Better Than the Real Thing?: Labeling Novel Foods ‘Imitation’ in 1950s and 1960s America”

4:15–4:30 coffee break

4:30–6:00 Final panel – Industry, expertise and historiography: Is there anything special about food risk?

Soraya Boudia, Jean-Paul Gaudillière, and Giovanni Ceccarelli


Attendance is open but registration is required. To register, contact Jaclyn Wasneski, wasneski@princeton.edu by March 1.

Further information at https://riskonthetable.princeton.edu

Contact Info: 

Jaclyn Wasneski, Program in History of Science, Princeton University

Contact Email: