Theses Doctoral

Farm to Pharmacy: Nutrition, Animals, and Governance in Britain 1870-1945

Igra, Alma

This dissertation examines the emergence of nutrition science in the 20th century and the first cohort of experts who practiced nutrition as a form of medical diplomacy. Unpacking pivotal case studies in Scotland, Iraq, Vienna, Geneva, and Oxford, the project shows how scientific knowledge was produced on a local scale. I argue that knowledge about food developed in Britain from the late 19th century to World War II in a contingent path that involved much more than “discoveries” in labs. It was the unique formation of this discipline across national, international, and imperial political spheres that produced scientific standards and methods. Nutrition enabled a powerful language of exchange, metamorphosis, and commensurability that were vital for British political world systems. My research, therefore, investigates nutrition not just as medical innovation, but as a revolution in ecology and politics: food science was a way to reimagine the earth and Britain’s place within it.

Scientific nutrition began as a marginal sub-field of agricultural science and came to acquire a central place in the definition of human needs. I show how critical terms of human nutrition – productivity, growth, and vitality – emerged from the attempt to improve animal health and from imperial agricultural planning. Even when the science of food moved from farms to pharmacies, through standardized units and products like vitamin supplements, animals and non-human factors continued to shape nutritional concepts, standards, and policies.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Pedersen, Susan G.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 14, 2020