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In Session: From Nourishing Life to National Nutrition: Diet and Health in Japanese History
3: Nutrition as National Defense: State-Sponsored Nutritional Activism in Japan, 1920-1940
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Nagoya University, Japan
This presentation explores the early history and biopolitics of nutrition science and government-led nutritional activism in imperial Japan. I argue that the Imperial Government Institute for Nutrition (IGIN), founded in 1920 as the world’s first government-sponsored nutrition institute, was the key instrument of imperial Japan’s state-led program of nutrition as civilization and national defense. For the institute and its founding director, Saiki Tadasu (PhD, Yale), the IGIN was as much an instrument of social change as it was a research facility. As imagined by Saiki and the IGIN, the scientization and rationalization of the diet offered an escape from the Malthusian trap, the specter of privation in Europe witnessed during WWI, and the physical “inferiority” of the Japanese vis-à-vis Westerners. In the absence of a command economy, the IGIN worked to advance nutrition science and disseminate its findings to the public in the name of national strengthening—though mostly through appeals to individual self-interest. The institute’s scientific successes were viewed domestically as a triumph, an indication that Japan had surpassed the West in the most fundamentally modern and rational of pursuits, science—and specifically nutrition science, a critical technology of nation building. Using IGIN primary sources, I situate the institute within its domestic and international contexts and at the intersection of science and activism, discovery and intervention.