The workshop on “Meat, Medicine, and Human Health in the Twentieth Century” that is being held at the National Library of Medicine, NIH, 14–15 November 2006 reminds me that an historical perspective on food, medicine and health would be a very timely topic to pursue for the new University of Copenhagen — now that the Royal College of Agriculture is being incorporated to create a major ‘health and life science’ university.

Indeed one of expressed aims of the incorporation of the eartlier independent Agricultural College (and the pharmaceutical university) as faculties of the University of Copenhagen is to support synergies between food science, medical research and public health studies. What better way to achieve this goal than creating a joint historical project — fostering an understanding of the historical background for bringing these three areas together?

To give our university authorities something to think about, here’s a quote from the workshop programme:

Public health messages about meat can be quite confusing. On the one hand, meat and meat products have been blamed for many of the health problems of modern society. Diets high in meats have been cited as causes of cancer, heart disease, and obesity. Meat-eating has been central to debates about outbreaks of BSE, typhoid, foot-and-mouth disease, and most recently public anxieties about avian flu. It has also raised more general concerns about food preparation and preservation. On the other hand, however, meat and meat products have also been portrayed as essential to the body’s ability to maintain health and resist disease. They have been central to dietary regimens such as the Atkins diet, and have provided the basis for a number of therapeutic interventions, such as liver extract in anemia. This workshop aims to explore the many different uses and meanings of meat in the twentieth century, and what these tell us about diet and nutrition during this period. Meat provides a particularly valuable focus for understanding the history of diet and nutrition in the twentieth-century. Debates about the healthiness or otherwise of meat and its derivatives are often intertwined with broader cultural concerns about the appropriate treatment of animals, the morality of meat-eating, anxieties about modern farming, processing and preservation methods, and worries about the influence of commercial, advocacy and political interests on nutrition policy and dietary habits. This meeting will explore the many different perspectives on meat and health from those of vegetarians, health activists, and animal activists to those of the meat industry, policy makers, and regulators. In so doing, it also seeks to show how debates about the healthiness or otherwise of meat provide a lens onto broader cultural attitudes towards diet and nutrition in the twentieth-century.

See more on this pdf-file from the NLM website.

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