Race, Diet, and Class

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Robert McCarrison’s Nutritional Research Laboratories in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, had by 1928 become the centre for nutritional research in India. The question that this article seeks to address is how did McCarrison manage to secure the status of his institute and reputation in the field? I argue that his reputation was largely established through a set of experiments he performed between the years 1925–27, in which he fed different groups of rats diets that supposedly corresponded to the different “races” of India and to working-class Britons. This article argues that these experiments were crucial in attracting funding and attention from the colonial state principally because they tapped into contemporary British anxieties about the deleterious effects of modernisation on the lower classes, as well as racial theories pertaining to the martial races that were in vogue in colonial India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also aligned with the colonial state’s desire to increase male labouring power and the physical prowess of its military recruits.