Anthropology and Nutrition: An underestimated connection

The connection between anthropology and nutrition is one that has been greatly underestimated. Gretel Pelto emphasizes the crucial reciprocal relationship between the two disciplines in an interview which appeared in an edition of Sight & Life magazine last year.

Pelto is a distinguished figure in the world of nutrition, having worked with the World Health Organization, conducted field research in Mexico and held positions at the University of Connecticut and, more recently, at Cornell University. Pelto has contributed significantly to research on maternal nutrition and has shed light on the immense importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.

Gretel told us that from “the beginning of the twentieth century, anthropology had a substantial literature on food and nutrition ‒ and let’s not forget that the great cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead headed up the US National Research Council’s Committee on Food Habits during the Second World War, which was one of the first critical attempts to bring nutrition and anthropology together in the arena of social policy. A lot of anthropology is based on a biocultural perspective, and in the 1960s and 1970s, researchers became interested in what was known as cultural ecology, which ties food systems and human health to the ways in which societies operate…What is stunningly surprising, to me, is that nutrition has been so little concerned with anthropology…I’m a strong advocate of ethnographic methods.”

(Steffen, J. Greta Pelto: A Life in Nutrition, Sight and Life, Volume 31, 2017, p.60). The full interview is available online here. 

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