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Title:The politics of the table: Nutrition and the telescopic body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935
Author(s):Ehrenberger, Kristen
Director of Research:Micale, Mark S.; Fritzsche, Peter A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Fritzsche, Peter A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Micale, Mark S.; Reagan, Leslie J.; Chaplin, Tamara
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):history of the body
popularization of science
First World War
food history
Germany history
Abstract:In early twentieth-century Germany, nutrition was important for both individual health and collective well-being because of what I call the “telescopic perspective.” This mode of thinking connected a nation of eaters (and drinkers) from the level of the international food trade all the way down to the vitamins that nourished their cells. It combined a positivist belief in the ability of medicine to heal social ills with a tendency across the political spectrum to describe the nation as an organic whole. It also required a certain amount of scientific literacy among the general public about the possible interactions between various foods and their bodies: good and bad tastes, energy, indigestion, disease or its prevention, pleasure, pain. My work expands the dichotomy between individual and social bodies to include the anatomical parts that constitute the eating individual and that individual’s multiple spheres of social belonging and identity (family, nation, religion, etc.). “The Politics of the Table” describes some of the ways in which Germans attempted to influence the contents and contexts of each other’s meals in the name of health, identity, politics, and economics, particularly from World War I onward. In the decades around 1900, mainstream and alternative medical practitioners, popularizers of science, and food industrialists offered conflicting advice about proper nutrition for the sick and the well. During and after World War I, Germans participated in a population-wide experiment in the socialization of the food system that escalated into a debate about who should be allowed to consume what scarce resources. While discussions about the centrality of the family table crystallized many of the classed and gendered dimensions of Germans’ foodways, the way rations were organized and justified revealed fissures within the body politic. Finally, from the 1920s through the 1940s, fears over the fate of both the political and biological empire focused the concerns of hygienists and policy makers onto the survival of the “telescopic body.” They insisted that the calories and nutrients consumed by an aggregate of individuals determined the health of the nation (das Volk), the race (die Rasse), and/or the social body (der Volkskörper). Throughout this period, even as public rhetoric increasingly placed the burden of responsibility for the health of the nation on their shoulders, women participated in these discussions as both givers and consumers of advice, as both expert and ignorant about what to eat and why.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Kristen Ann Ehrenberger
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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