Source of the Month: "Locating low-protein life: post-war colonial nutrition science, subsistence metabolisms and food cultures in the South-Western Pacific Islands," by Alexandra Widmer

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January’s source of the month is Alexandra Widmer’s recent article, “Locating low-protein life: post-war colonial nutrition science, subsistence metabolisms and food cultures in the South-Western Pacific Islands,” in Food, Culture & Society.

From the article abstract: “Can bodies be healthy if consuming scant amounts of protein? To answer this in the 1960s, nutrition researchers, working through the Australian Institute of Anatomy and South Pacific Commission rendered food cultures into research variables to compare the metabolisms of research participants living in different food systems and economies (subsistence and wage) in the south-western Pacific Islands... I argue that nutrition research where food cultures become a variable for identifying and isolating a research population primarily render indigenous metabolisms legible in conjunction with the operationalization of economic differences and, to a lesser extent, raced and sexed capacities. A focus on food cultures and systems as a way of isolating a research population can situate populations in opposition to market economies and presume unidirectional social change. This article analyzes thus how “nutritional primitivism” is entangled with research practices, colonial administrative goals and the humanitarian concern with universal protein standards.”

Would you like to suggest a Source of the Month, or contribute to the H-Nutrition bibliography? Contact Josh Levy at jlevy@loc.gov. For more resources on the history of nutrition, please see H-Nutrition's Zotero library: https://www.zotero.org/groups/691119/h-nutrition/library

Thanks for bringing this article to our attention, Josh! I started the nutrition elective I'm teaching right now with a brief lecture on the history of nutritional concepts, including the protein standard. The medical students have been researching different diets, including Paleo--so we talked about what "authentic" means for whom, when, and where--and one will be presenting on how to raise a healthy child on a vegetarian or vegan diet. They are curious about what scientists have said about "the best" diet and also already savvy about structural pressures that make certain foodways more attainable than others. I look forward to sharing more about the course with this group soon.