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Jonathan Slater (LSE): Wholegrain Bread and the Fear of Fibre: German War Bread during the First World War

The focus of this paper is on efforts to stretch the bready supply in Germany during the First World War through adulteration and government mandates requiring the milling of whole grain flour. This was a progressive process which saw higher extraction rates and increased levels of adulteration throughout the course of the war, eventually resulting in war bread which was baked using a combination of wheat, rye, and potato flour. Extraction rates for the grain flour used in this bread increased from prewar extraction rates of between 50 and 70 percent of the bread grain, to a wartime high of 94 percent. This darker, denser bread sparked anxiety amongst nutritionists, physicians, and physiologists who had limited understanding of the role played by dietary fibre, fearing that the undigested fibre would not only impede the body’s ability to absorb nutrients during digestion, but also that it may cause injury or damage to the digestive organs themselves. This outdated belief was reflective of the limited contemporary understanding of human nutrition, which had only just begun developing as a field of study in the later decades of the 20th Century. Despite this, historians of the First World War have been slow to account for advances in nutritional science which would cast doubt on the arguments of these contemporary experts, often uncritically reproducing their arguments concerning the “indigestibility” of war bread. This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach, using current understandings of nutrition to interrogate the sources and draw new conclusions about the nutritional viability of war bread. 

Marieke M.A. Hendriksen (NL Lab, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences): The Dutch and their love for liquorice: a post-WWII tale of food technology and identity building

The Dutch eat more liquorice confectionary than anyone else. It is even associated with Dutch national identity in both government reports and marketing campaigns. Yet the liquorice plant is not indigenous, and liquorice confectionary is consumed in many other countries too. When and why did liquorice become so popular in the Netherlands? Before WWII, liquorice confectionary was not consumed in larger amounts in the Netherlands than elsewhere in northwestern Europe, nor was there a strong connection to national identity. This changed dramatically in the two decades after WWII, and surprisingly, one man, a biochemist - played a pivotal role in this process, helped by various socio-economic circumstances. 

This paper demonstrates that tracing how a specific foodstuff becomes part of and shapes the collective identity of a nation state can give us new insights in the complex factors at play in such political, economic, and emotional processes, as well as in the role of science. In this paper, the history of liquorice from medicine and pharmacy to iconic candy in the twentieth-century Low Countries is explored through a combination of archival research and reworking historical liquorice recipes. It is argued that the Dutch love of liquorice is a typical example of heritaging and the identification of certain foodstuffs as “typical” for a nation or region, often by commercial parties with the intent to sell more of their product, without factual historical grounds that support the claim.

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