The early history of nutritional anthropology dates back to studies of food and social organization in non-industrial societies in the 1930s. The British anthropologist Audrey Richards (1939) is often described as the first one who explicitly focused on food. She studied economic and social factors affecting food among the Bemba in central Africa. Her work was part of the British applied anthropology movement, which was associated with colonial governance and welfare.
In the 1940s, studies of nutrition and the culture of eating were stimulated by the circumstances related to World War II. Committees that included anthropologists and nutritionists were set up in the United States and the United Kingdom to plan food rationing and to ensure adequate nutrition for the troops and support personnel. The U.S. Committee on Food Habits was directed by a well-known anthropologist, Margaret Mead (Wilson, 2002). Between 1950 and 1970 food- and nutrition-related themes were included in some anthropological studies, but nutrition was not in generally a central focus of anthropological study.
In the 1970s food and nutrition within anthropology was revived as nutritional anthropology in the United States. Pelto (1986) traces the development of the field to four social forces: the world energy and food crisis in the early 1970s; growing interest in the role of nutrition in health and diseases; the emergence of ethnicity as a social and political phenomenon; and an interest in gourmet food and cooking in affluent societies. The rise of cultural ecology as a theoretical perspective in anthropology was also central to the development of nutritional anthropology. The American Anthropological Association organized sessions on the biocultural perspective of nutrition in response to the increased interest in the 1970s and this resulted in a widely used publication (Jerome, Kandel, & Pelto, 1980). The Committee on Nutritional Anthropology was established in 1974 as a special interest group within the Society for Medical Anthropology. The committee became the Council on Nutritional Anthropology (CNA), which has been a separate unit of the American Anthropological Association since 1987. There has been and still is a broad diversity of interests within the group ranging from theory to application.
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