The State and the Stomach: Feeding the Social Organism in 1830s New England
If the health of a society depends on its diet, how should it be fed? This question lay beneath debates in the 1830s about the proper alimentary regimen for the New England laborer. The controversy over which diet would ensure the health of the country’s workers pitted proponents of vegetarianism, led by the reformer Sylvester Graham, against advocates of meat eating, led by the physician Luther Bell. This essay shows how both Graham and Bell used comparative anatomy to argue for the naturalness and suitability of their preferred mode of diet. By linking the care of the body to the care of society, both figures placed gut health at the centre of debates about modernity, capitalism, nationhood, and the application of scientific inquiry to medical practice.
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