<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>A Diet for Americans</b> <p> <p> School lunches owe their origin to the science of nutrition and the efforts of early twentieth-century social reformers to improve American diets and thereby mold American culture as well. Chemists, home economists, and child welfare advocates together engaged in a lengthy struggle to convince Americans that rational, scientific eating habits not only would improve individual health but would raise living standards and strengthen democratic institutions as well. It may have been a leap to go from the kitchen table to the ballot box, but scientists and social reformers alike believed the connection was direct and essential. Efforts to modernize diets, however, went beyond the usual Progressive Era attempts to Americanize immigrants, contain class or racial discontent, or shape a welfare state. Dietary reform addressed native-born white Americans who could afford to eat steak as much as it addressed workers on tight budgets or immigrants who preferred olive oil and sausage to white sauce and aspic. Indeed, the science of nutrition transformed eating into an act that went beyond pleasure and the satisfaction of hunger pains. Eating and cooking, particularly with regard to children, became, in the era of science, activities with implications far beyond the kitchen. <p> From the end of the nineteenth century until the Great Depression of the 1930s, nutrition scientists, home economists, and social reformers engaged in a long battle to transform American eating habits. They were only partially successful. Their efforts, however, provide a window onto some of the central issues confronting the nation's political and social development in those years. Food reform before the New Deal suggests, first, the central role science played in shaping American attitudes about class, race, and ethnicity. Food reform also speaks to ideas about the causes and cures for poverty and inequality, particularly in a democratic society. Food reform finally, reveals the gendered dimension within American reform in the early twentieth century. Food reform and nutrition science provided women an important avenue through which they could contribute to scientific knowledge and also influence public policy. <p> Food reformers, however, do not fit into neat categories. While dietary prescriptions appear to be, for example, the epitome of social control and cultural imposition, nutritious diets could, in fact, significantly improve the health of children as well as adults. Hunger and malnutrition threatened poor families most directly, but, as nutrition scientists discovered, even people who were not hungry could suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Herein lay a central tension marking food reform and efforts to establish school lunch programs. Efforts to popularize nutrition science were aimed not only at poor people, immigrants, and other groups outside the "mainstream" of white, middle class America. Indeed, food reformers continually battled to modernize the eating habits of the middle-class just as they struggled to Americanize immigrant or African American food preferences. Thus, the central policy question attached to nutrition, particularly when it came to children's meals, was whether to target all children or to concentrate on only those most obviously suffering from hunger and malnutrition. <p> One of the central arenas in which food reformers sought to influence American eating habits was children's meals, most notably, school lunches. Originally the purview of charity workers and mother's clubs, school lunches in the nineteenth century had little to do with nutrition science. They were, basically, benevolent activities designed to provide free meals to the poor. With the discovery of nutrition science during the late nineteenth century, however, school lunches entered the realm of public policy. Although food reformers were largely unsuccessful either in convincing native-born Americans to "eat right" or in convincing immigrants to forsake their traditional fare, they were much more successful in building a network of lasting institutions in school lunchrooms and a powerful base of operation within the United States Department of Agriculture. As the federal agency most concerned with the nation's food supply, the USDA provided a natural home for nutrition research. Indeed, discoveries about the relation of food to human health originated in research about livestock and agricultural products. While the federal government did not become directly involved in school lunch programs until the 1930s, USDA nutritionists and home economists early on began to translate nutrition research into popular recipes and menus. Food reformers, whether within the USDA or in other arenas, however, never resolved the fundamental policy tension that underlay their work: should nutrition education and food programs target people who were economically needy, that is, people who literally did not have enough to eat, or should they target the nutritionally needy, people who might have plenty to eat but who did not understand a balanced diet? School lunch programs neatly combined the two goals. <p> During the early twentieth century, nutrition science defined a set of ideas that described what Americans needed to eat in order to maintain their personal health and the health of the nation as well. Institutionalized in schools throughout the country by the 1920s, the lunchroom became an arena in which children (and, by extension, their parents) could learn the principles of nutrition and the importance of science in daily life. School lunch programs solved two central problems raised by science and its emphasis on food as a nutrition delivery system. On the one hand, hot lunches promised to protect America's youth from the scourge of malnutrition. Healthy children, like public education more generally, signaled America's democratic strength. At the same time, school lunches promised to Americanize immigrant families by teaching children the values of science and health. As Jane Addams, the era's most well-known social reformer, said, "an Italian girl who has had lessons in cooking ... will help her mother to connect the entire family with American food and household habits." Food and household habits had always been two pillars of cultural identity. In the lunchroom they became pillars of civic culture as well. <p> <p> The Search for a Scientific Diet <p> Nutrition, perhaps more than other scientific endeavors, blurred the line between science and culture. Developed in nineteenth-century European chemistry laboratories, the science of food was aimed first at improving livestock and agricultural productivity. Only toward the end of the century did scientists begin to apply their discoveries about animal feeding to human health. Unlike animal feed, however, human diet was always and intimately tied to deeply held cultural habits and beliefs. Scientific discoveries regarding the connections between food and health almost inevitably bumped up against a realm of human behavior that was governed more by emotion than reason. People rarely, then or now, eat what they "should" rather than what they want. Nutrition science thus inevitably, if inadvertently, inserted itself into social policy, particularly when it came to the relations among poverty, hunger, and food choices. Hunger and malnutrition, traditionally the central physical manifestations of poverty, appeared ideally suited to scientific remedy. If the poor could learn to eat better for less, one of modern society's most intractable social problems might be conquered. Rich or poor, nutrition science held out the promise of improved health for all. <p> Between 1880 and 1930 science informed a generation of social reformers and policy makers who sought to shape American society—and American diets. Dubbed the Progressive Era by historians, this period was marked by an energetic and optimistic effort to bring efficiency, expertise, and rational organization to industry, agriculture, public policy, and the domestic sphere as well. Scientific motherhood, for example, suggested that healthy and successful child-rearing depended as much or more on the knowledge and advice of experts—physicians, teachers, and home economists—as on the accumulated wisdom of mothers and grandmothers. Elevating mundane domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, science also promised to enhance housework and make women's sphere more efficient and productive. In more general terms, science promised to improve public health, eliminate disease, and lengthen life expectancy as well as improve industrial efficiency and promote social order. It was a tall order that spoke to a belief in human progress and social improvement. At the same time, of course, science could as easily reinforce social inequalities as laud democratic progress. The prevailing theories of racial hierarchy and eugenics claimed scientific bases, as did theories like Dr. Edward Clark's about the "natural" differences between women and men. As a number of scholars have suggested, however, a scientific consciousness permeated popular beliefs at least by the time of the first world war. <p> In the United States, as in Europe, the years between 1890 and World War I were marked by unprecedented social and economic transformations. Industrialization, urbanization, and immigration signaled at once the tremendous potential of human endeavor and lingering legacies of inequality, including pervasive racial discrimination and a fundamental reluctance to recognize women as full-fledged citizens. On both sides of the Atlantic, industrialization produced enormous wealth for some and unmitigated poverty for others. In modern urban centers, poverty was increasingly visible and the gulf between rich and poor provided space for festering resentment along with opportunities for reform and social renewal. In the United States, social distances were exacerbated by immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe who arrived in unprecedented numbers to work in American industry. Bringing with them languages, cultures, and foodways unfamiliar to native-born white citizens, the newcomers appeared to be both intriguing and threatening. In the American South, racial segregation was solidified and legitimated in Jim Crow laws and the threat of violence by the Ku Klux Klan. Finally, a series of major industrial strikes during the 1880s and 1890s sparked the formation of a national labor movement and legitimated the demands of industrial workers for living wages and an "American standard of living." In this mix of social tensions, the science of nutrition held out the promise of a base-line opportunity for all Americans. Indeed, a healthy, egalitarian democracy needed to provide nourishment for both the minds and the bodies of its citizens. <p> Key to Progressive Era reform was a generation of women who appeared on the public scene ready to assert not only their own rights to citizenship but their abilities, indeed, expertise, in social problems. Daughters of the middle class, both white and black, Progressive Era women reformers organized a vast array of organizations and institutions aimed at solving the social problems of the day. Represented most notably by Jane Addams and her settlement house cohort, women reformers across the country addressed housing, health, labor, and education. Labeled by some historians as "maternalists," women reformers of the Progressive Era represented, as in any social movement, a range of beliefs and strategic goals. Their demands included paved streets and garbage collection in urban immigrant neighborhoods, window screens and sanitation for rural farm families, health services and day-care for children, and social insurance for widows. While women reformers concentrated particular attention on children's welfare, they also promoted industrial health and safety, consumer protection, and municipal improvements as well. Ultimately, Progressive Era reformers, both men and women, laid the foundations for twentieth-century welfare states. In the United States, women reformers, in many ways, became the architects of public welfare and social policies that were codified into law only during the 1930s. <p> Dietetic solutions to social problems had a long history. More than most laboratory scientists, nutritionists understood that their work might hold important implications for everyday life and ordinary people. Indeed, regulation of diet and body dated back to the eighteenth century or earlier. During the nineteenth century, however, bodily discipline and orderly life-styles became intimately linked to discussions about industrial efficiency and the nature of middle-class family life. As one historian put it, "diet discourse" developed into a secular science that had both a moral and a rational component. The dual nature of nutrition as a moral and a scientific discipline characterized its practical applications from early on. Thus the science of nutrition was taken up by a wide range of professionals, from home economists and social workers to businessmen and politicians. Dietary theories held particular significance, however, for those working with women and children. Housewives, of course, held the key to family health with every meal they served. Their market decisions, kitchen habits, and household management skills determined the family's standard of living as much as did the husband's wage. At the same time, children, particularly those in the captive audience of school classrooms, might be particularly open to new ideas that they would then take home to their parents. <p> In the United States, nutrition science influenced social policy largely through the efforts of three individuals. Wilbur O. Atwater, a laboratory scientist, Edward Atkinson, a businessman, and Ellen Richards, founder of the home economics profession, together established the scientific basis for popular ideas about food and nutrition and laid the groundwork for institutional food service. Atwater pioneered in the discovery of vitamins and the idea that it was the nutrient, not the particular food, that was important for healthy development. But even more significant was Atwater's commitment to building an institutional base for nutrition science and, ultimately, food policy, within the USDA. Edward Atkinson directly applied nutrition science to the question of poverty and standard of living. Wading directly into the era's fears that industrialization was resulting in increased inequality, he insisted that workers needed only to understand and apply the principles of nutrition science in order to live well on factory wages. Atkinson's most lasting contribution to dietary reform, however, came through his financial backing for Ellen Richards and her efforts to establish a new profession devoted to bringing scientific methods to the domestic sphere. As one of the founders of home economics, Richards was perhaps the most influential of the three. Her work with diet and nutrition laid the groundwork for institutional food service and, ultimately, for a national school lunch program. <p> Wilbur O. Atwater translated the chemistry of food into practical, everyday terms. As a chemist at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and later as the first director of the USDA's Office of Experiment Stations, Atwater spent his career searching for ways to improve agriculture and enhance the work of American farmers. Chemical fertilizers, improved seed strains, and selective livestock breeding all required research and resources that went far beyond the means of most American farmers of the era. In his espousal of what one historian has termed the "transcendent virtue of productivity," emphasizing the era's belief in efficiency and productivity, Atwater, perhaps inadvertently, laid the basis for the large-scale, mechanized, highly capitalized operations that came to characterize American agriculture in the twentieth century. In his work, he hoped to realize the human potential of agricultural improvement for the consumer as well as for the farmer. As Director of Experiment Stations Atwater oversaw the beginning of a major expansion in public funding for agricultural research, including food and nutrition. His work thus prefigured what would later become an intimate connection between the Department of Agriculture and American food policy. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>School Lunch Politics</b> by <b>Susan Levine</b> Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.