On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief

On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief

by Tom Scott-Smith


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On an Empty Stomach examines the practical techniques humanitarians have used to manage and measure starvation, from Victorian "scientific" soup kitchens to space-age, high-protein foods. Tracing the evolution of these techniques since the start of the nineteenth century, Tom Scott-Smith argues that humanitarianism is not a simple story of progress and improvement, but rather is profoundly shaped by sociopolitical conditions. Aid is often presented as an apolitical and technical project, but the way humanitarians conceive and tackle human needs has always been deeply influenced by culture, politics, and society. Txhese influences extend down to the most detailed mechanisms for measuring malnutrition and providing sustenance.

As Scott-Smith shows, over the past century, the humanitarian approach to hunger has redefined food as nutrients and hunger as a medical condition. Aid has become more individualized, medicalized, and rationalized, shaped by modernism in bureaucracy, commerce, and food technology. On an Empty Stomach focuses on the gains and losses that result, examining the complex compromises that arise between efficiency of distribution and quality of care. Scott-Smith concludes that humanitarian groups have developed an approach to the empty stomach that is dependent on compact, commercially produced devices and is often paternalistic and culturally insensitive.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501748653
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 04/15/2020
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Tom Scott-Smith is Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford. He previously worked as a professional in humanitarian and development organizations. Follow him on Twitter @tomscottsmith.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Humanitarian Approaches to Hunger
1. From the Classical Soup Kitchen to the Irish Famine
2. Justus Liebig and the Rise of Nutritional Science
3. Governing the Diet in Victorian Institutions
4. Colonialism and Communal Strength
5. Social Nutrition at the League of Nations
6. Military Feeding during World War II
7. The Medicalization of Hunger and the Postwar Period
8. High Modernism and the Development Decade
9. Low Modernism after Biafra
10. Small-Scale Devices and the Low Modernist Legacy
Conclusion: On an Empty Stomach

What People are Saying About This

Peter Redfield

"Richly detailed, engagingly told and always insightful, Tom Scott-Smith's genealogy redefines humanitarian history from the belly up. On an Empty Stomach leaves its reader with a very full mind."

Jennifer Clapp

"On an Empty Stomach is a highly engaging and well-written account of the shifts in conceptions of hunger and humanitarian responses to it over time. Scott-Smith's analysis paints a fascinating and complex picture of the ways in which changing social conditions have shaped the dilemmas facing humanitarians in different historical eras."

Michael Barnett

"In a compelling, well-written, and engaging account, Scott-Smith shows how the historical moment guides aid workers toward a standardized intervention that conveniently ignores how local cultures think about and treat hunger.  An important contribution to medical anthropology and humanitarian studies."

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