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Introduction to Part Four

Introduction to Part Four

(p.189) Introduction to Part Four
Appetite and Its Discontents
Elizabeth A. Williams
University of Chicago Press

The Introduction to Part IV (Chapters 10-12) sets the context for the biomedical study of appetite in the years 1900-1950. Despite sweeping changes in food production, distribution, and consumption, research on appetite largely disregarded quotidian realities of human eating. Instead, laboratories served as privileged sites for investigating appetite, with laboratory animals supplying models for human eating. Researchers in the emergent field of ethology contested the dominance of the laboratory, but the experimental setting remained preeminent given the high value placed on precise measurement. With the spread of scientific medicine, physicians, who had long defended individual appetite, increasingly recast clinical observations of appetite and eating in light of claims about the governance of ingestion by hormones, specific brain-sites, or chemical constituents of nutrients. Practitioners concerned for the “whole person” worked to develop a psychosomatic approach to troubled appetite, but they remained divided over the relative importance of psychic and somatic factors. Overall, researchers attempted to define appetite as a concrete object of science, as when the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov equated appetite with gastric secretion. But by 1950 most researchers concentrated on measurable “food intake” or sought strictly operational approaches to appetite as an admittedly ambiguous phenomenon.

Keywords:   laboratory animals, ethology, scientific medicine, hormones, brain sites, nutrients, psychosomatic medicine, Ivan Pavlov

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