by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food-history

May 17 2018

Annals of history: medical advice about sugar, 1918

The JAMA issue of May 1 reprints an article first published 100 years ago.  If I hadn’t seen the original date, I would have thought it had just been published for the first time.
The 1918 article is called “Sugar in War Time.”
It was published originally on April 6 that year.  JAMA. 1918;70(14):1003.
It begins:

During recent months, many physicians have been asked regarding the possible effects of the various newly imposed or proposed dietary restrictions or innovations on the health of the individual. … Among other plans for conservation, a reduction in the use of sugar has been urgently requested and, indeed, made inevitable at times when local shortage has curtailed the available supply so that the customary quota is not forthcoming. ..The most pertinent information is that respecting the actual use of sugar in the United States in recent years. The amount consumed in 1917 was approximately 9,100,000,000 pounds, or 88.3 pounds per capita. In 1916 it amounted to 8,300,000,000, or 84.7 pounds per capita. It is thus apparent that if these statistics are correct there has been some increase in the consumption of sugar.

Eighty-eight pounds of sugar per capita used each year represent about 110 gm. (nearly 4 ounces) per day for every man, woman and child in this country. Expressed in terms of food fuel units this is equivalent to 440 calories, a not inconsiderable portion of the daily energy needs of an adult man. The sugar of the daily diet consumed in the measure indicated by the government statistics would furnish one seventh of the food fuel where 3,000 calories are required, and even a larger proportion where the daily energy requirement is put on a lower basis. Four ounces of sugar, as the accusation now stands, is the calorific equivalent of two thirds of a quart of good milk or of eight slices of bread approximating one third of a pound.

When it is recalled that this great per capita consumption of sugar is largely a phenomenon of recent years and the result of the development of an industry whereby the price of the product has been lowered, the necessity for the inclusion of this carbohydrate up to one seventh or even one fifth of the daily energy requirement in the diet will obviously be questioned.

The article concludes with this statement:

Sugar is well utilized in the human organism; from the standpoint of cost its food value is very high, and its popularity need not be debated. But there is no consideration of nutrition that seriously demands so large an inclusion of sugar in the diet or forbids considerable reduction in its use, especially when the best interests of the civilized world demand it.

Mar 5 2016

Three books about eating: 3. A Short History

This is the third book about eating I’ve been posting about.  The first two were here and here.

Graham Dukes & Elisabet Helsing.  A Short History of Eating.  The London Press, 2016.

Dukes and Helsing, married couple, English and Norwegian respectively, and friends of long standing, have produced a light-hearted, entertainingly illustrated romp through the history of the human diet, from breast milk (on which Helsing is expert) to bubble gum, based on their research into a wide range of sources, literary as well as anthropological.   The authors quote poems in appropriate places:

When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,

It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.

Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good

Oh! the Roast Beef of old England.

The illustrations display cartoons, ads, portraits, and botanicals.

Here is an excerpt to give you the flavor…

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France before the Revolution, is often cited—almost certainly wrongly—as having suggested that since during a famine the starving population lacked bread they should eat cake instead…But if Marie Antoinette truly did propose that the populace eat cake, what sort of cake, familiar in her royal circle, might that have been?  Modern reference sources define a brioche today as a light yeast bread with butter and eggs…A better clue…may be that provided by that infamous rascal of the day, the Marquis de Sade.  In July 1783, from his prison cell in Vincennes…he wrote a letter to his patient wife imploring her to send him: “…four dozen meringues; two dozen sponge cakes (large): four dozen chocolate pastille candies with vanilla….”

Dec 7 2012

Holiday weekend idea: visit a food exhibit!

If you happen to be in Washington DC, take a look at FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

 

Julia Child’s kitchen is the featured exhibit, but the history of the industrialization of the U.S. food supply is well worth a look.

I especially like quirky collections of food objects.  Here’s one from the exhibit:

 

If you are in New York City, you can see Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture at the American Museum of Natural History and check out the New York Times review so you know what to look for.

Also in New York is Lunch Hour at the New York Public Library.  If you can’t get there, the library has an online version of the exhibition.

If you happen to be in Switzerland and anywhere near Lake Geneva, Nestlé’s Alimentarium in Vevey has a special display of quirky collections: sardine cans, sugar cubes, and fruit wrappers, for example.  You can find it easily from its fork stuck into Lake Geneva.

Food exhibits seem to be the current Big Thing.  I’m trying to take advantage of them while they are around.  You too?