This working paper examines the construction of a ‘native’ diet in India by the British from the early 1900s to mid 1900s when the country gained Independence. It was not until the 1920s that malnutrition was ‘discovered’ and constructed as an imperial problem worthy of systematic scientific inquiry in the colonies. This period also coincides with the increasing attention paid by the international public health community to nutrition. In the west, the existence of food deprivation in the context of plenty leads to the scaling up of standards of nutritional requirements and for defining the welfare role of the state as a way of solving the problem of the agricultural industry. Nutrition enters public policy and public policy influences nutrition. The term malnutrition is coined to describe inadequacy in diets of impoverished colonial people and quality rather than quantity of food is emphasized in nutritional research and advice. At the same time, a differential standard of nutritional requirement for the ‘native’ population is recommended as a practical way of attaining realisable goals. Depending upon the prevailing economic reality, science is brought in to justify standards and norms and to explain the exiting nutritional state of the deprived (workers in the west and natives in the colonies). Within the nationalist movement in India, the dual standard does not go unremarked. However, the continuities within the scientific community ensure that the dominant notions of nutrition are carried over even after the country is decolonised.

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International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)
ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Sathyamala, C. (2010). Nutrition as a public health problem (1900-1947). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 510, pp. 1–30). Retrieved from