Feeding Germany: Nutrition and the German Countryside, 1871–1923

Feeding Germany: Nutrition and the German Countryside, 1871–1923

Carolyn Taratko

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Cover of Edener Mitteilungen, Journal of Eden Settlement, 1931.

Cover of Edener Mitteilungen, Journal of Eden Settlement, 1931.

This project examines scientific eating and the science of nutrition in Germany between 1871 and 1923. It probes notions of what it meant for food to be healthy or pure. The identification of nutritive components and digestive mechanisms was accompanied by dietary recommendations, along with demands for standards of quality and their policing. A more developed understanding of the composition of foods cleared the way for reform in eating patterns and experimentation with surrogates. Through a series of case studies constructed around debates in nutrition, Carolyn Taratko explores how knowledge and expertise about food came to be perceived as credible by both the scientific community and German citizens.

Her approach combines questions from the history of science with those of environmental history. While ideas about what constituted health and how it could be achieved by consuming certain foods form one part of this dissertation, it diverges from existing studies by exploring the relationship between ideas about nutrition and management of agricultural resources. It asks after the effects of specific knowledge-claims related to food and food production on the countryside.

By the late nineteenth century in Germany, subsistence crises appeared to be a thing of the past. Yet malnourishment persisted, exacerbated by migrations of poor workers to urban areas. Carolyn Taratko explores the relationship between nutritional science and the social landscape by answering the following questions: How was nutritional expertise constructed? What sorts of experimentation and observation were necessary for staking knowledge-claims about health and food? Did place and provenance of food contribute to assessments of quality and purity? To what degree did a sense of place become embedded in notions of health and healthfulness in nutritional discourse? To what degree were the environmental consequences of production present in the discourse surrounding food?