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British Food Journal Volume 43 Issue 3 1941

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 March 1941


Professor J. C. Drummond concluded his Cantor Lectures in January, 1938, by a quotation from Thomas Muffett's Healths Improvement, published in 1655: “Wherefore let us neither with the impudent, call diet a frivolous knowledge, or a curious science with the imprudent; but embrace it as the leader to perfit health (which as the wise man sayeth) is above gold, and a sound body above all riches.” Diet as the leader to perfect health: let us consider this for a moment in connection with the present subject. The object of the application of science to food is essentially the improvement of the diet of the people of the world. That, at any rate, is the long view of the question, though other motives may actuate certain groups at certain times. To‐day, for example, in this country, the main object of scientific work is to feed the population as efficiently as possible with the food available. Science in Germany for several years has been the handmaiden of the Nazi party and their four years' plan has been far more scientifically developed than any food plan in this country (so far as is at present obvious). It may be taken as certain that science applied to food has improved the diet of the people, although governments and industry have not necessarily always utilised the knowledge gained with this end in view, a position that obviously applies to all new discoveries in science. Scientists engaged in studies concerning food have the development of the knowledge of food chemistry either directly or indirectly as their main object; the majority are not concerned with the application of the results of this knowledge. Before dealing in detail with a few of the particular aspects of the application of chemistry to food, its production, its treatment, its storage and its service, I would briefly summarise the activities of the scientist as follows. He seeks to find the reason for the rule‐of‐thumb methods of the farmer, the stock‐breeder, the baker, the brewer, the physician, the requirements of the consumer himself, and, having found the explanation, he seeks to remove the unknowns, to standardise procedure, and to improve the process. This, I think, sums up the work of the scientist, and in doing this his studies lead him into every phase of the problems of the feeding of the people. Initially the chemist devoted his particular attention to the purity of foods. He did not know what “purity” entailed, neither do we know to‐day; like all knowledge, the science of food is an ever‐widening circle. The theory of “calorie” feeding has given place to the “vitamin” hypothesis, the limitations of which are now being more and more realised; tomorrow or next year a new concept of food and diets will be developed. The studies in the “purity” of food undertaken by the predecessors of the present members of the “Society of Public Analysts and other Analytical Chemists” were of fundamental importance. The objects of that Society, founded in 1874, are not without significance. Broadly they may be stated as follows: The study of analytical chemistry and of questions relating to the adulteration of articles of food, and the promotion of the efficiency and proper administration of the laws relating to the repression of adulteration. For the moment I wish to stress just one of these objects, namely, the study of analytical chemistry. Without reliable methods of analysis, studies in the composition of food are useless; the importance of a large proportion of the work published to‐day has to be discounted because of failure to appreciate the importance of reliable methods of analysis. It is only by the light of careful analysis that the picture of the composition of a food can be thrown on to a screen and examined. Appreciation of the composition of the food is the key which will open the door to a knowledge of its reactions, not only in its production, but also in its digestion by the human being. Without the work of the analysts, the research worker is unable to appreciate the influence of the facts he may discover. In this country the field of scientific investigation is covered by a number of organisations, Government‐controlled, partially Government‐controlled and private (the private consisting of academic workers in universities and colleges and the laboratories of the large commercial firms concerned with food production). Problems of the production of basic foods, of manufacture, of cooking, of storage and preservation and of distribution are all investigated. The science of agriculture is very modern, and it is only in comparatively recent years that chemistry, as such, has been seriously applied to this branch of practical science. In this country, the Rothamsted Experimental Station at Harpenden, founded in 1843, has been foremost in trying to collate scientific data with details of farming practice. Other important research stations, such as the Long Ashton Research Station, the Chipping Campden Station, the Rowett Institute, the National Institute for Research in Dairying, are all products of the present century. These bodies are essentially concerned with the production of the basic materials, fruit, cereals, meat, etc., for the food manufacturer, although this limitation of activity is not applicable everywhere; for example, Long Ashton devotes particular attention to the cider industry, Chipping Campden to canning, and Reading to cheese and other milk products. The next stage, food manufacture in all its phases, is in this country covered by the Food Investigation Board of the D.S.I.R. and by a number of Research Associations which are jointly supported by the Government and by member firms. But by far the greater proportion of scientific work on food manufacture is carried out in the laboratories of the great food firms. The Food Group of the Society of Chemical Industry has been active in arranging meetings concerned with the chemistry of food and has helped considerably to foster free discussion. In problems of distribution the food scientist has collaborated with the Royal Sanitary Institute and the Association of Medical Officers of Health. This collaboration has been of the greatest use, because it is of little worth for the food manufacturer to produce wholesome food if in its distribution the shopkeeper does not take the necessary precautions to see that the food is handed to the purchaser in as good a condition as the precautions taken in its production warrant. Dr. Andrew Borde, the seventeenth‐century physician, wrote in his Breviary of Dyet—“A good cook is half a physician for the chief physic dotli come from the kitchen, wherefore the physician and the cook must consult together.” A striking commentary on this thought has lately appeared in the preface to a book by McCance and Widdowson, published under the regis of the Medical Research Council: “The nutritional dietetic treatment of disease, as well as research into problems of human nutrition, demand an exact knowledge of the chemical composition of food.”


(1941), "British Food Journal Volume 43 Issue 3 1941", British Food Journal, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 21-30.




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