People, Poults, and Peanuts: Nourishing Human and Animal Populations in Postcolonial Great Britain and East Africa

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Lucas Mueller, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This paper investigates the intertwined governance of human and animal populations in late colonial and early postcolonial Great Britain and East Africa of the 1950s and 1960s through the lens of nutrition. The British state was centrally concerned with the nutrition of its subjects in the metropole and colonies. Veterinarians’ and nutritionists’ categories, experiments, and calculations shaped the state’s policies to provide sufficient plant and animal protein to these populations. After the loss of the colonial territories, national and international agencies often hired British experts and continued the British policies. On the British Isles, the poultry industry depended on high protein fodder, made of peanuts from the colonies, to raise fowl for the rapidly growing postwar market for poultry. In the colonial territories, British medical officers promoted peanut-based supplements as the solution for infant malnutrition. Moreover, peanut cultivation had been promoted as means of economic development in West and East Africa. Peanuts promised to solve the Empire’s pressing food and feed problems. In 1960, veterinarians discovered a highly carcinogenic molecule that contaminated the peanut-based feed and killed several thousand birds on British farms. Soon, British scientists found the poison, aflatoxin, in batches of peanuts across the African and South Asian regions of the disintegrating British Empire, disrupting these late imperial and postcolonial flows of peanuts. Tracing the reactions to the 1960 disease outbreak, this paper reveals the experts’ calculations that undergirded the practices of late colonial and early postcolonial nutritional governance. These calculations relied on metabolic imaginations that differentiated within humans and other animal species according to age, location, and purpose. These factors were the outcome of complex relations of late colonial and early postcolonial trade, animal husbandry, and research. The science and governance of human and other animal populations recursively reinforced each other.