“Provisioning People and Other Animals Since the 18th Century”
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Anya Zilberstein, Associate Professor of History, Department of History, Concordia University.
John Clegg, Collegiate Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Chicago.
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It is generally assumed that the first feedlots date to the late nineteenth century, but the rationale, practice, and debate on providing fodder to livestock in year-round confinement emerged much earlier in Europe and the colonial Americas on dairy, ranching, and breeding farms. In the eighteenth-century British empire, moreover, interest in new methods of feeding livestock contributed to broader policy and legislative debates about reforms to food welfare for destitute or dependent people such as orphans, sailors, hospital patients, prisoners, and the enslaved. These efforts culminated in statutes such as the Leeward Islands’ Amelioration Act of 1798 and Britain’s New Poor Law of 1834. Jeremy Bentham, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Malthus, and many others argued that dietary reformers should follow the lead of innovative husbandmen who minimized the expense of feeding their non-human charges. Even the same kinds of foods (mostly starchy vegetables such as potatoes, maize, barley, and oats) and their preparation for cattle, sheep, and horses, it was thought, could be used to provision low-status people. This interlinked history of food for people and for other animals presages several key features of industrial food and agriculture—from routine uses of laboratory animals as model organisms for human nutrition experiments to the ubiquity of corn and soy derivatives in processed foods formulated for human consumption and as farmed animal fodder.