This book explores the origins of the National School Lunch Program, the most extensive and longest-running children’s health program in U.S. history. In doing so, it reveals how and why school meals came to have the form that is so familiar to most Americans. By exploring the origins of school meal initiatives, this book endeavors to explain why it was (and has continued to be) so difficult to establish meal programs that satisfy the often competing interests of children, parents, schools, health authorities, politicians, and the food industry.
“Exceedingly well-written, Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat is an excellent piece of scholarship that fills an important gap in the literature on school lunches.”
—Ian Mosby, author of Food Will Win the War
By the mid-19th century, scientists and physicians were extolling the importance of nutrition in nearly all matters of human health, yet they struggled to articulate just what nutrition was. “There is no subject of more interest to the physiologist, of more practical importance to the physician, or that more urgently demands the grave consideration of the statesman,” wrote one physician in an 1842 issue of the London Medical Gazette, “than the disorders resulting from defective nutriment.” Yet a century later, experts routinely lamented the lack of a clear definition of nutrition. The physician and nutrition expert George Palmer, for example, noted in 1930 that nutrition “is an ambiguous term. It awaits a specific definition.” This project explores the ontological foundations of nutrition between the mid-19th and the mid-20th centuries, when the field developed from a branch of physiological chemistry to a central pillar of biomedicine and public health. In this period, scientists and health experts continuously refined and renegotiated the meaning of nutrition, which became ever more important in etiologies of health and disease but simultaneously ever more conceptually amorphous. To examine different concepts of nutrition in the field’s formative years, this project uses epistemic network analysis to examine, both qualitatively and quantitatively, how conceptual models of nutrition changed over time and across contexts.
H-Nutrition is an H-Net network and listserv that brings together scholars, teachers, filmmakers, library and museum professionals, and others with an interest in the history of nutrition, broadly conceived. H-Nutrition publishes original work, including essays and media reviews, and serves as a central hub for conversations about food and nutrition in historical context.