HC231H - The Protein Wars (Spring/2024)

Professor: Hannah Cutting-Jones

4.00 credits

  • CRN 35902: Monday & Wednesday, 12:00-1:20pm @ LIB 322

Regardless of our individual dietary preferences, most of us have been asked at one point or another, “Where do you get your protein?” Unlike its vilified counterparts, fats and carbohydrates, protein has remained a baseline of nutritional advice whether one orders a steak or a plant-based burger. Yet experts continue to disagree on the amount and best sources of protein. In this interdisciplinary class we will explore the social and cultural history of protein as the most compelling and controversial food component of the modern age, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century when scientists first identified protein as an important nutrient and America emerged as the meat-packing capital of the world. Some posited that animal products provided the sole source of “complete protein" -- a view seen in products like beef broth and powdered milk, while others like John Harvey Kellogg proposed that plant-based proteins were sufficient and even optimal. World wars retrenched efforts to provide American soldiers with diets rich in protein and diverted meat to theaters of war. The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of fast food and the emergence of the first alternative, vegetarian restaurants. Today protein, a multi-billion industry, continues its reign as the most important nutrient. Our class will examine the ways in which these arguments and themes have been repackaged over the last 150 years and trace the evolving, contradictory, and persistent narratives surrounding protein as an essential nutrient.