Nourishing the People: Nutrition Science, Dietary Practices, and Food Resilience in Modern China
3: Coping Mechanisms and Food Insecurity: A Historical Approach to Health in Extremis
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Essex, United Kingdom
My paper sets out to explore famine and health practices in modern China using the methodology of oral and archival history set against a historical background of traditional materia medica for famine foods. I will document how rural villagers across eight different regions of China coped with the Great Leap famine in the 1950s and early 1960s. I will describe their survival strategies and responses to state policies and political indoctrination. My work intends to shift focus from dry statistics to lived experience, most poignantly for women and children. Intentionally eliciting family knowledge and practice of healing and nutrition, I will use Chinese obsession with food talk, their remedies and recipes, to explore and record vivid accounts of those difficult years, often remembered as ‘bitter days’. The subaltern approach will allow us to assess individual and collective approaches to mediating traditional practice and communist party policy in health care when dealing with hygiene, illness and healing; how party policies were implemented from above, circumvented or changed by villagers and cadres from below, and how memories of the famine fed into popular culture.