Race, Diet, and Class: Robert McCarrison’s Laboratory Rat Experiments in Coonoor, 1925–27

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Robert McCarrison’s Nutritional Research Laboratories in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, had by 1928 become the centre for nutritional research in India. The question that this paper seeks to address is how did McCarrison’s manage to secure the status of his institute and reputation in the field? I argue that his reputation was largely established through a set of experiments he performed between the years 1925-27, in which he fed different groups of rats, diets which supposedly corresponded to the different “races” of India and to working-class Britons. This article argues that these experiments were crucial in attracting funding and attention from the colonial state principally because they tapped into contemporary British anxieties about the deleterious effects of modernisation on the lower classes, as well as racial theories pertaining to the martial races that were in vogue in colonial India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also aligned with the colonial state’s desire to increase the male labouring power and physical prowess of its military recruits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-27
Number of pages11
JournalFood Studies: an Interdisciplinary Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Imperialism, Science, Medicine, Martial Races, Laboratories, Class, Diet, Race


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