Spotlight on the NUT donation: “The teaching of dietetics” by V. H. Mottram and “Education in nutrition” by H. E. Magee

Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 archive boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one.

Today is the turn of Education in nutrition by H. E. Magee and The teaching of dietetics by V. H. Mottram. Strictly speaking, these are not NUT outputs, but rather addresses delivered during the Union’s conferences of 1935 and 1936 and they don’t necessarily represent the views of the organisation. However the particular gatherings during which they were presented and the fact that there is only one year between the two indicate the Union’s level of interest around the issue of child nutrition in the years just before the Second World War. As acknowledged by Magee, this was also a consequence of the many discoveries made in this field starting from the beginning of the twentieth century.

Teaching of dietetics

Reading through the speeches, it’s clear for both authors that what children eat depends mainly on parents’ choices and that schools’ interventions are limited in this respect. However, they believe that educating pupils on the value of food is key to ensure that these will apply the good principles learnt in school when they become adults. In this sense, as explained by Magee, food education has both an intellectual and utilitarian objective, contributing “to the general happiness and well-being of the community” (p. 7).

This focus on the long-lasting benefits of good nutrition is in itself very modern and has remained a key area of discussion for policy makers throughout the years, with the discussion being extended to areas such as school meals and child obesity. Not surprisingly, our Official Publications collection includes a host of resources on all these subjects and many are also available online on our DERA repository.

An interesting aspect in the two papers being considered relates to the choice of recommended vocabulary when teaching nutrition in the classroom. For Mottram, for example, technical terms should be avoided and foods should rather be presented in terms of how they affect us: some have “warming” properties, others help “build” the body, while some “protect” it, although the distinction between these three categories is less evident than one may think and some of the things we eat serve multiple purposes at once.

Education in nutrition

Magee seems less concerned about choice of terms when explaining things to pupils, but in the address foods are divided into “constructive”, “protective” and “energy-giving”. However, the author also provides a loosely scientific introduction to food properties, using words such as “carbo-hydrates”, “vitamins” and “proteins”.

A few other interesting things come to mind when reading the two papers: in the 1930s nutrition education was part of Domestic Science, a wide-ranging subject that has since been renamed Home Economics and is sometimes taught as several separate disciplines, such as Food Technology, Design and Textiles and Woodwork; for a scholar keen to explore the evolution of the subject, all the various terms would likely be relevant when performing a catalogue search. It may also be fascinating to research how much time was dedicated to understanding food properties as opposed to cooking during lessons, with Mottram suggesting that pupils spend far too long in front of the stove, when in fact they should learn “the right principles of feeding” as well.

Still related to choice of vocabulary, it’s also interesting to see that “elementary school”, an expression we generally associate with United States, was in fact common in the United Kingdom at the time the two addresses were delivered. It was only replaced by “primary school” in the years following the 1944 Education Act, when the school system was organised around three main stages: primary, secondary and further education. Once again, the different terminology would need to be kept in mind by anyone with an interest in historical research.

These two items, like all the others included in this donation, are currently uncatalogued, although this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.

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