Organized Panel Session
This panel combines histories of science, food culture, and public policy to examine critically the transformation of diet and health regimes in Japan from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries. By crossing chronological and disciplinary boundaries, we seek to historicize diet, health, and nutrition in relation to shifting societal, political, and personal priorities. One theme concerns the way food and diet have largely been overlooked in histories of medicine, while studies of food culture have conversely underrepresented the culinary dimensions of healthcare. By the mid-Tokugawa period, dietary commentators had already begun to reframe eating right as the bedrock of social health, bundling self-regulation, morality, and household prosperity into prescriptions for proper consumption. Families responded in their daily lives by monitoring and recording the dietary regimens of their ill relatives, producing new food-based logics of treatment in the process. Turning to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we explore questions of national nutrition as they stoked an ongoing tension between universalized conceptions of a healthy diet rooted in human physiology and Japan-specific nutritional models. Just as government-sponsored researchers helped to codify national and global standards of scientific nutrition, skeptics, such as those in the macrobiotic movement, questioned the premises and values of those standards and championed a non-Eurocentric vision of dietary health. By exploring two centuries of competing visions of what to eat and why, this panel contends that diet is neither value-free nor reducible to an apparently objective relationship between nutrients and physiological outcomes.