Professor Louisa Stanley—pioneer of healthy US diets

American nutrition guru 001Found in the fascinating El Mundo archive is this intriguing photo of Dr Louisa Stanley( 1883 – 1954), pioneer of practical home economics, shown standing in front of the Good Housekeeping home which was one of the twelve Homes of Tomorrow exhibited at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.

At the time Stanley, as Bureau head of Home Economics, was the highest paid woman in the United States Department of Agriculture, where her brief was to improve the diets of ordinary Americans. Unlike the TV chefs of today, she came to the important issues of well-balanced diets and a healthy lifestyle, from the standpoint of a chemist. The nearest we have had to such a celebrity nutritionist was the seventies TV guru Dr Magnus Pyke—he of the waving arms and rapid fire delivery—but at the moment Jamie ‘The Naked Chef’ Oliver is doing something similarly serious to change our attitude towards dangerously fattening carbohydrates, notably sugar..

Back in 1930s America, sugar was not denounced as public enemy number one, and Stanley saw it as part of a well balanced diet. There is even a photo of her judging a pie competition. But she did champion the benefits of healthy home cooking based on sound nutrition. One of the issues she promoted was the canning of home-grown vegetables.The health benefits of soya beans was something else she supported. Much of her promotional work was mediated through radio broadcasts.

In the photo the lettering on the large cards displayed inside the four rooms of the Good Housekeeping Home is too small to read easily, but we can just make out a statement to the effect that a ‘well balanced diet’ is the key to safeguarding health. In another room the same family appear to be engaged in some communal activity (possibly listening to the radio), while behind them on the wall is that hardy perennial of the statistician, the pie chart, which though invented in 1801, wasn’t really used until 1858.

Louise Stanley went on to become a sort of national treasure in the United States. In 1940 she became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate and in 1961 a building at her alma mater, the University of Missouri, was named after her. [R.M.Healey]

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