“Our Sickness Record Is a National Disgrace”: Adelle Davis, Nutritional Determinism, and the Anxious 1970s1

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Abstract

America's most widely read nutritionist of the postwar decades, Adelle Davis, helped to shape Americans' eating habits, their child-feeding practices, their views about the quality of their food supply, and their beliefs about the impact of nutrition on their emotional and physical health. This paper closely examines Davis's writings and argues that even though she is often associated with countercultural food reformers like Alice Waters and Frances Moore Lappé, she had as much in common with the writings of interwar nutritionists and home economists. While she was alarmed about the impact of pesticides and food additives on the quality of the food supply, and concerned about the declining fertility of American soil, she commanded American women to feed their families better and promised that improved nutrition would produce stronger, healthier, more beautiful children who would ensure America's future strength. She believed that nearly every health problem could be solved through nutrition, and urged her readers to manage their diets carefully and to take extensive supplementation to ensure optimum health. As such, she played an important role in creating the ideology of “nutritionism” – the idea that food should be valued more for its constituent parts than for its pleasures or cultural significance.

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