Food Will Win the War: The Politics, Culture and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014.

Arriving on the heels of the Great Depression, the Second World War helped bring about a profound transformation in the diets of ordinary Canadians as well as in the politics and culture of food and nutrition more generally. Not only did the war see Canadians become subject to mandatory food rationing and other unprecedented government controls on the price and distribution of food but, at the same time, scientific studies by Canada’s leading nutrition experts warned that widespread malnutrition threatened to derail the country’s military enlistment and war production goals. And, as the federal government struggled to meet its commitments to provide food, soldiers, and munitions to Canada’s overseas allies, ordinary Canadians were regularly called upon to put their own diets on a war footing through a range of voluntary forms of food conservation, menu substitutions, and household production.

Food Will Win the War examines the symbolic and material transformations that food and eating underwent at the hands of both the state and ordinary citizens in order to explore the profound social, political, and cultural changes that took place in Canada during the 1940s. It focuses on the ways in which the unprecedented intervention of the state into Canadian kitchens transformed domestic culinary practice as well as on how Canadians, themselves, rallied around food and nutrition as a means of articulating a range of different, and decidedly gendered, visions of wartime and post-war citizenship. Chapters examine the scientific and cultural origins of Canada’s Official Food Rules and other forms of popular dietary advice; Canadians’ collective response to wartime food rationing and price control; the place of household food production, conservation, and service within a broader voluntary mobilization of women’s wartime domestic labour; the ways in which ordinary women’s production and use of wartime recipes and cookbooks expressed a range of different visions of food, gender, and nation; and, finally, how the science of nutrition transformed – and was itself transformed – by wartime and early post-war debates over the politics of social security and reconstruction.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

“Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942-1952” Histoire sociale/Social History, XLVI, No. 91 (Mai/May 2013), 615-642.

Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools. The most ambitious and perhaps best known of these was the 1947–1948 James Bay Survey of the Attawapiskat and Rupert’s House Cree First Nations. Less well known were two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools. This article explores these studies and experiments, in part to provide a narrative record of a largely unexamined episode of exploitation and neglect by the Canadian government. At the same time, it situates these studies within the context of broader federal policies governing the lives of Aboriginal peoples, a shifting Canadian consensus concerning the science of nutrition, and changing attitudes towards the ethics of biomedical experimentation on human beings during a period that encompassed, among other things, the establishment of the Nuremberg Code of experimental research ethics. [This article is also being republished in Mona Gleason and Tamara Meyers, eds. The Difference Kids Make: Bringing Children and Childhood into Canadian History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015.]

“Making and Breaking Canada’s Food Rules: Science, the State, and the Government of Nutrition, 1942-1949” in Franca Iacovetta, Marlene Epp and Valerie Korinek, eds., Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 409-432.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Canada’s Food Rules were perhaps the single most recognizable symbol of good nutrition in the country. First introduced in 1942 as Canada’s Official Food Rules, this simple list of daily food requirements formed the central message of Canada’s first large-scale national nutrition campaign. With minor revisions made in 1944 and 1949, they could be seen anywhere: in newspaper advertisements, on posters in factory lunch- rooms, in cookbooks, and on flyers included along with family allowance cheques. The recommendations ranged from the very specific (milk, butter, tomatoes, potatoes, bread, liver, eggs, and cheese) to the more general (citrus fruits, leafy green or yellow vegetables, whole grain cereal, and meat) and were designed to meet a scientifically determined set of nutritional requirements. The overall message was a straightforward one and would form the basis of Canadian nutrition advice until the introduction of Canada’s Food Guide in 1961: ‘These foods are good to eat. Eat them every day for health. Have at least three meals a day.’

This chapter attempts to problematize the seemingly simple message of this iconic nutrition campaign by critically examining the concept of ‘health’ that formed the basis of the recommendations contained within the three revisions of the Food Rules. While a number of Canadian historians have examined the ways in which various official and unofficial ‘gatekeepers’ have used dietary advice as a means of normalizing the ideal of a white, middle-class, male- breadwinner–centred nuclear family, decidedly less attention has been paid to the role played by scientists, doctors, and other nutrition experts in reproducing many of the same kinds of gender, class, and racial ideologies at the level of basic nutritional science. Therefore, this essay focuses specifically on the central role played by scientific experts in the production of popular nutrition advice as well as the ways in which changing definitions of key concepts such as ‘health,’ ‘illness,’ and ‘malnutrition’ reflected larger transformations in the relationship between the state and its citizens during the Second World War and early postwar periods. Building on a growing international literature on the history of nutrition, I argue that the Food Rules were part of larger efforts by leading Canadian nutrition experts to advance their own particular political and professional interests by defining healthy eating in a way that prioritized a certain vision of the wartime labour, military, and agricultural needs of the nation. Through an examination of how changing ideas about the concept of ‘malnutrition,’ in particular, were constructed and deployed by nutrition experts and governments throughout this period, this chapter situates the Food Rules as the central message of a public health campaign that was ultimately less concerned with preventing serious illness than it was with normalizing a largely unrealized physical and cultural ideal of good citizenship.

“‘That Won Ton Soup Headache’: The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, MSG and the Making of American Food, 1968-1980” Social History of Medicine, Vol. 22, No. 1 (April 2009), 133-151. [Awarded 2010 Nicholas C. Mullins Prize]

This article examines the ‘discovery’ of the Chinese restaurant syndrome in 1968 and subsequent reactions by the medical community, scientists, public health authorities and the general public to dangers posed by the common food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) and by Chinese cooking more generally. It argues that Chinese restaurant syndrome was, at its core, a product of a racialised discourse that framed much of the scientific, medical and popular discussion surrounding the condition. This particular debate brought to the surface a number of widely held assumptions about the strangely ‘exotic’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘excessive’ practices associated with Chinese cooking which, ultimately, meant that few of those studying the Chinese restaurant syndrome would question the ethnic origins of the condition.

Book Reviews

2013 Review of June Koropecki, Life in the Tee-Pee (Lytton: Freedom Graphics Press, 2010) in BC Studies: The British Columbian Quarterly (Forthcoming Fall 2013).
2013 Review of Matthew Smith, An Alternative History of Hyperactivity: Food Additives and the Feingold Diet (New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2011) in The Canadian Bulletin of Medical History / Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine, 30, 1 (Spring 2013), 234-6.
2012 Review of Diane Tye, Baking As Biography: A Life Story in Recipes (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queens UP, 2010) in Histoire sociale – Social History 45, 90 (Nov. 2012), 457-459.
2008 Review of Steve Penfold, The Donut: A Canadian History (Toronto: U of T Press, 2008) in Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies 20, (Fall 2008), 244-246.
2008 Review of Dorothy Duncan, Canadians At Table: A Culinary History of Canada. (Toronto: Dundurn, 2006) in the Canadian Historical Review 89, 1 (March 2008), 110-111.


Other Publications

2014 “Food on the Home Front During the Second World War,” in Essay Writing Skills with Readings, 7th Canadian Edition, eds. John Langan and Sharon Winstanley (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd. Canada, 2014), 478-483.
2012  “History in Grease Stains and Pencil MarksThe Globe and Mail, 29 September 2012, F7.
2012 Joe Beef and the Invention of Culinary Tradition,”, 14 June 2012.
2012 Food on the Home Front During the Second World War,” in A window into the Canadian experience during the world wars, Jonathan Vance and Graham Broad, eds.
2012 “Ethnic Food Fears and the Spread of the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome in Canada, 1968-80,” Culinary Chronicles: The Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Canada, No. 62 (Spring 2012), 5-7.
2011 Eating Like Our Great-Grandmothers: Food Rules and the Uses of Food History,”, 24 Novemer 2011.
2007 Why Me? A guide to living with your child’s neuromuscular disorder (Toronto: Muscular Dystrophy Canada, 2007).

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>