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Appetite (2002) 38, 6367 doi:10.1006/appe.2001.0446, available online at http://www.idealibrary.

com on

Keynote Article

Reasons for eating: personal experiences in nutrition and anthropology

Christine S.Wilson
Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins University, School of Hygiene and Public Health, 615 NorthWolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205,U.S.A.

Social, ecological, physiological and cognitive processes all influence choices among foods that cumulate in dietary intake. This broad research field is studied by nutritionists, agricultural economists and consumer researchers, specialists in ingestive behaviour, biosocial psychologists and cognitive anthropologists of food acceptance, sociologists and anthropologists of social roles of food and historians, folklorists, geographers and other cultural scholars of belief systems surrounding food research. Each discipline has its primary concerns, sometimes with other close fields. This workshop considered merits and mechanisms of inclusive research meetings, journals and books as physical units as well as separate workers and facilities for virtual conferences, documents and organizations. # 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd

Personal background
``How a biologist became a nutritional anthropologist'' is perhaps best explained by a brief biography. School authorities where I grew up gave no encouragement to girls to obtain further education. Nevertheless, I prepared myself for self-supported tuition by learning business skills at a school for that purpose. I enjoyed learning from medical student friends wondrous insights they were gaining from epidemiological research, and fell in love with it at once. The interest continues. During my earlier professional career I was in two such departments, at Vanderbilt and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In the latter I was a researcher.
Fax: 1 410 280 0654 This article was written in consultation with John W. Bennett, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Washington University, Campus Box 1114, St. Louis, MO 63130, U.S.A. The text is based on a presentation to the 8th Food Choice Conference, Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, Toronto, on 4 June 1999, and further discussion among interdisciplinary research workers on behaviour regarding food at the 9th food Choice Conference, Trinity College, Dublin, on 29 July 2000. 01956663/02/010063+05 $35.00/0

After graduating from Brown University in biology I was not able to do graduate study immediately (due to restraints on monetary support at the time), though one of my professors (Donald Fleming, an early historian of science) had urged me to go to graduate school. Instead, my first assignment was in the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, as Assistant Editor, Nutrition Reviews. The journal was published out of the Department. (I had earlier experience in scientific and other publishing.) This, including editing the journal, was a good education. The reviewers also taught me nutrition. Then, after a brief period at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I entered Vanderbilt University to study biochemistry, but became ill. The Division of Nutrition in the Biochemistry Department had a contract from the U.S. Public Health Service's ICNND (Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Defense) to analyze results of nutrition surveys they organized, and hired me to edit the reports. I took part in briefing sessions of team members and worked with them on recommendations they made to the countries studied. (I had been introduced to anthropology by two graduate students at Harvard; there was none at Brown while I was there.) After a time I sensed something was lacking, so I asked impertinent
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C. S.Wilson

questions: ``How do you know the people you are taking this information to will carry out your recommendations?'' The answers were, ``that's not our problem; it's the country's problem!'' These exchanges led me to recommend a behavioural scientist be included on future teams. The first one was a psychologist, on the survey of the Federation of Malaya, where I later worked. I participated from afar, in some 30 surveys, and learned a lot about the countries and their cultures. This led me to think about a graduate degree in a different direction. One of the editors of Nutrition Reviews, George Briggs, Department of Nutrition, University of California, Berkeley (UCB), invited me to enter there, and I got a National Institute of General Medical Sciences Special Research Fellowship to be trained to become a bridge between biological and behavioural sciences, specifically nutrition and anthropology. In 1966 I became one of a group of graduate students pursuing different but equally challenging new roles. This experience changed my life, for I immediately felt at home in anthropology. When the time came time to choose a site for ethnographic research on diet, I was introduced to the Department of International Health, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), which had an ongoing program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, funded by the NIH Institute of Geographic Medicine. This International Center for Medical Research and Training (ICMRT) was one of several units established overseas to teach North American health professionals about problems of tropical health in developing nations which had been learned during World War II. The ICMRT was headquartered in the (Malayan) Institute for Medical Research where research had been carried out on nutritional problems in this riceeating region early in the 20th century. Because I had my own research funds, the professional directors in Malaya as well as California were glad to welcome me, and to be my on-site proctors and supervisors for UCSF. On arriving in Malaya I was tutored in Malay so I could talk with the people I was going to study. After I had been in the kampung (village) several months, more and more people wanted to talk with this stranger who had come to live among them and spoke a highIndonesian kind of Malay. One took me aside and said, ``Get your dictionary! Do you know (this word)? Well, this, this and this are all the same thing!'' Later, on a rest break in Bali, a Buddhist monk asked where I had learned Malay. When I said, ``Terenganu,'' he said, ``Ah, Terenganu! That's where you're from! You've got the Terenganu accent!'' After a stay of 13 months in Malaya I went back to UCSF to write my doctoral dissertation for UCB, an

ethnographic study of diet on the East Coast of Malaya (Wilson, 1970). Then UCSF appointed me preceptor to a medical student who wanted to do what I had done in another part of Malayaknow everybody in the village, do a socioeconomic census, examine their beliefs and, most of all, learn more about the relationship of their diet and behaviours to the common infections with parasites and the effects of the parasitism on their food choices. I went back to Malaya for six months on this assignment, and did my own research as well, on things there had not been time to study during my first stay. They included clinical and biochemical data on vitamin A problems, which were probably chiefly dietary in origin, as well as studying childbirth and related practices that posed other health problems. During this time I also collaborated with an English physician, an expert on tropical anemias. He collected and analyzed blood samples from the villagers. I collected food samples that had been prepared in usual ways, for him to analyze for folate content.

The history of nutritional anthropology

During my first study the UCSF MD/parasitologist who supervised my research (and became an anthropologist, too) said after a time, ``I suppose we could call what you are doing `nutritional anthropology'.'' That may have been when the subdiscipline was first named (although Margaret Mead used the term in a talk to dietitians (Mead, 1964)). I stayed in the UCSF Department, which became Epidemiology and Biostatistics, as well as the administrative office for the Graduate Program in Medical Anthropology. Many of the latter's graduates and faculty remain my good friends as well as colleagues. I taught nutrition to students from all the schools of UCSF (a graduate medical university) as well as nutritional anthropology, cross-cultural maternal and child nutrition, and international health. The foregoing personal history was outlined at the 8th Food Choice Conference in Toronto in 1999 to explain why an anthropologist who is also a nutrition scientist was concerned with the interests of others attending that conference. In 1995 I began collaborating with John W. Bennett, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis, since we too have similar interests. His dissertation research for the University of Chicago was among white and black farmers in Southern Illinois. Some of his work was of great interest to a National Research Council (NRC) Committee on Food Habits in World War (Bennett, 1943). Interest in the relationship between anthropology and nutrition goes back to publications in eighteenth

Reasons for eating


century France by philosophers and gourmands as well as by scientists of the time. Since the beginnings of the research field termed anthropology in the nineteenth century there have been anthropologists who study the food behaviours of the people whose lives and cultures they observe. Some well-known anthropologists have collaborated with dietitians and other nutritionists to determine the contributions of their population's eating practices to nutrient intakes and health. Nutritional anthropology has a number of studies that its present practitioners consider classic examples. In 1973 the Society for Nutrition Education published a supplement to its journal on food habits, revised as a selected annotated bibliography on sociocultural and biocultural aspects of nutrition (Wilson, 1979). Among the names we most often cite are Richards (1939) and Mead (1943). Studies of the culture of eating from both biological and social sciences were stimulated in Europe and North America during and before World War II. This first truly global war was anticipated to disrupt shipping of food supplies both internationally and within countries. Dietitians and home economists who had studied ``food habits'' found themselves pressed into serving on committees to advise governments not only about what was grown in the regions where they worked, but also on the acceptability of edible items that were not commonly considered comestibles by much of the population. In the U.S. and U.K., committees were set up that included anthropologists as well as nutritionists, to plan how to ensure that war workers, troops and support personnel were acceptably and satisfactorily nourished. The U.S. Committee on Food Habits (CFH) was directed by Margaret Mead under the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. Another national Committee set up in the NRC was on Food and Nutrition. During the war it became the Food and Nutrition Board, which it remains today. Mead's group carefully selected representatives from other social sciences, sociology as well as psychology, to conduct research and examine questions that still resonate today. The two Committees published reports then and later. Their proponents and reports pointed to meaningful questions still not answered (Guthe and Mead, 1943, 1945). Dr Bennett was one of those whose work was co-opted by the CFH (Bennett, 1943). I met her (Mead) at the Academy while working on a totally unrelated project. Later when we met to discuss our mutual interests in food and behaviour she became interested and supportive of my activities and publications. The Committee on Food Habits voted itself out of existence in the late 1940s. In the early 1940s the U.S. Quartermaster Corps also carried out research relating attitudes to food

habits. This work arose because, even though to some extent food could be forced on the military, they found it wouldn't work at all well if the researchers went against the soldiers' food preferences. They had to figure out some way to get them to regard the new item as being like a familiar or well-liked one. The WWII Committee on Food Habits had some people who did fine work on this problem. This sort of issue appears to be why the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps set up several research centers, in Chicago, Natick (Massachusetts) and Denver, to carry out civilian consumer research as well as work on military personnel. Nevertheless, the impetus behind the creation of the NRC Committee on Food Habits was not the requirements of military personnel. To a large extent it arose from scarcity of some usual foods among the civilian population during the war. This created issues such as hoarding. Even in the U.S., shortages were serious enough to require personal ration books for civilians, for dairy foods such as milk and butterthings the people were taught to eat for their own good. These foods were also needed to feed the military and in addition our friends overseas (especially the British, who had it really hard, so a few luxury items were also included). The need for more food encouraged attempts to tap into little used sources. For example, the CFH ran some trials to get people to eat soy products, a completely new idea then. This was not soy sauce, but tofu, the cheese-like solid so popular now. Many interesting publications on food habits are on file in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library. Libraries of the U.S. Land Grant universities also have these kinds of materials. After the war, the U.S. also had a committee working on nutrition in developing countries. Referred to above, it was initially called the Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Defense. Its name was changed to the Interdepartmental Committee on Nutrition for National Development (with the same less threatening acronym, ICNND) as other countries requested that civilians be included in the studies. The reports were printed and bound by the Government Printing Office after they were typed at Vanderbilt and taken back to the countries concerned by selected team members. ICNND ended in the late 1960s, but the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (near NIH) has what is said to be a complete file. The people studying these countries were nutritional biochemists, other professionals such as clinicians, dietary experts, dentists, agricultural economists and similar scientists. At first they assessed food intake of the military by weighed records and 24-hour recalls


C. S.Wilson

as dietitians do, but later they studied nutritional habits in the civilian populations as well. After the war ended, interest in the U.S. turned to other topics and much of the wartime research was forgotten. More than two generations of students in relevant fields have grown up not knowing about some of these findings for instance, why people often will not eat foodstuffs unfamiliar to them. Since the 1960s or before, there has been a Commission on the Anthropology of Food in the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences that meets with the International Congress of Anthropology every five years (current Director is Igor de Garine, Centre de la Recherche Scientifique, Lasseube, France). There have been anthropologists for nearly two centuries since the field's beginnings in the 19th century who have studied food behaviours of the people whose lives and cultures they observed. One reason for creating the session held in Toronto in 1999 was to learn from attendees if they had developed hypotheses to explain reasons for eating. Dr Bennett and I were particularly interested to learn of theories why people choose particular eating patterns and behaviours not associated with edible and nutritious local sources or economic constraints. We hoped to test whether such hypotheses could be applied to past ethnographic studies in similar publications.

School of Public Health; Gretel Pelto, then at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva; William Stini, University of Arizona; and myself (Grivetti, 2000; Pelto, 2000; Stini, 2000). Lou, Peggy, Gretel, Bill and I are also members of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences. Dr Bennett was represented by me; he revised my paper, which was about the WWII Committee on Food Habits. He had asked me to find out through people I know in Washington where the Committee's files were, or if they existed. They did and do; a few were archived at the Academy, and the rest were with Margaret Mead's papers at the Library of Congress, given to the library by her daughter Mary Catherine Bateson after her death.

At the end of the Toronto conference in 1999, Dr Bennett and I were interested in writing a critical history of some of the important publications that exist that have not been looked at from the viewpoint of what theories might be applied to them that could possibly apply in other cultures. We would still be interested to know of other hypotheses that might be applied to other ethnographies. Since the 1999 meeting we have been examining linkages between food choices or behaviours and beliefs and their biological-cumnutritional effects on the food consumer's health via his/her nutrition. We hope to hold an interdisciplinary behavioural sciences workshop to examine these questions further. Among those we hope to talk with are several of the people mentioned in these pages. Most nutritional anthropologists are familiar with the work of the British anthropologist Audrey Richards as well as Mead, cited above. It need not be said that this field is very diffuse. Consider, for example, some terms these behaviours have been recognized by: food habits, food behaviours, food choices, eating patterns, cuisines, food beliefs, food taboos, nutritional anthropology. A point not always kept in mind during discussions such as these is that there are non-beneficial food beliefs, such as taboos and conditions requiring them, and they have often become incorporated into a population's general fund of important information. We all know there are beneficial aspects of some food practices. Amino acid complementarity is one (Chong & So, 1966). I am not sure if any knowledgeable person has examined the role of specific nutrients in some of these beliefs. I am interested in the new findings about phytochemicals in our foodstuffs. We need to know more about them, and whether or how they interact with known nutrients.

Subsequent development of nutritional anthropology

In the early 1970s a group of people beginning to do nutritionally- or anthropologically-related research formed a special interest group of the (new) Society for Medical Anthropology. Later it became a special interest group of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) as the Council on Nutritional Anthropology. There is also a Culture and Agriculture group within the AAA (Dr Bennett was one of those responsible for setting it up). In 1996 some of the nutritional anthropologists answered the AAA request for information about where constituent groups' interests were going and organized a session for the annual meeting in San Francisco. Among us were Sidney Mintz, a Johns Hopkins anthropologist with a long interest in food, and Richard B. Lee, the University of Toronto anthropologist who studied the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert (about whom a film was later made, The Gods Must be Crazy). Also speaking were Louis Grivetti, a geographer-nutritionist from the University of California, Davis; Margaret Bentley, Johns Hopkins

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Bennett, J. W. (1943). Food and social status in a rural community. American Sociological Review 8, 561569. Bentley, A. (1998). Eating for victory: food rationing and the politics of domesticity. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Chong, Y. H. & Soh, C. C. (1966). The protein nutritive value of ikan bilis (Stolephorus spp.). Medical Journal of Malaya 22, 230233. Grivetti, L. E. (2000) Nutritional geography: history and trends. Nutritional Anthropology 23, 116. Guthe, C. E. & Mead, M. (1943). The problem of changing food habits. Report of the Committee on Food Habits, 19411943. Bulletin of the National Research Council, Number 108. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. Guthe, C. E. & Mead, M. (1945). Manual for the study of food habits. Report of the Committee on Food Habits. Bulletin of the National Research Council, Number 111. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences. Mead, M. (1943). Dietary patterns and food habits. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 19, 15. Mead, M. (1949). Cultural patterning of nutritionally relevant behaviour. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 25, 667680.

Mead, M. (1950). Sex and temperament in three primitive societies New York, NY: New American Library Mentor Books. Mead, M. (1964). The factor of food habits. American Academy of Political Science and Sociology Annals 225, 136141. Pelto, G. H. (2000). Continuities and a few challenges in applied nutritional anthropology, Nutritional Anthropology 23, 1622. Richards, A. I. (1939). Land, labour and diet in Northern Rhodesia: an economic study of the Bemba tribe. London: Oxford University Press. Stini, W. A. (2000). Nutritional anthropology and the ``great protein fiasco.'' Nutritional Anthropology 23, 2328. Wilson, C. S. (1970). Food beliefs and practices of Malay fishermen: an ethnographic study of diet on the east coast of Malaya. University of California, Berkeley, unpublished PhD dissertation. Wilson, C. S. (1979). Food-custom and nurture: an annotated bibliography on sociocultural and biocultural aspects of nutrition. Journal of Nutrition Education 11, Suppl. 1, 211264.