Bodies, Race, and Native Diets across Mexico and the United States, 1930–50

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 9:30 AM
Riverside Ballroom (Sheraton New York)
Karin A. Rosemblatt, University of Maryland, College Park
This paper probes links between conceptions of race, ideas regarding bodily health, and dietary norms in Mexican and US policymaking from approximately 1930-1950. Beginning in the 1930s, diet became a global concern of states, and concern intensified as World War Two disturbed food supply and prompted shortages. In both Mexico and the United States, experts worried that poor nutrition was undermining the health of “minorities” in general and Native peoples especially, thereby undercutting their ability to work and produce for national and international markets. Poor diets, these experts argued, could cause abnormality and degeneration. This paper investigates the ideas regarding racial and bodily plasticity that shaped a series of linked studies of diet organized by the Inter-American Indigenous Institute, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs and a shifting set of Mexican state agencies. Scientists availed themselves of new knowledge regarding calories and nutrients but worried about how well knowledge regarding diet could travel from one place to another. Their publications helped produce racial distinctions thtat blended traditional ideas about nature and evolution, neo-Lamarckian notions of regarding the effects of cultural differences on bodies, and modernizing ideals. Investigators looked at the effects of natural environments, land tenure, agricultural practices, and culinary traditions on racially and culturally differentiated diets and bodies.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation