Cornell University

As Good as Butter: Home Economics and the New Fats, 1890-1990

Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 4:30pm

Mann Library, Stern Seminar Room 160
Cornell University Mann Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA

New edible fats with names like "Hogless Lard" and "Cottolene" entered the American diet in the late 19th century, and Americans sought help from the first generation of home economists to understand these novel foodstuffs. For the next century, experts in home economics and allied disciplines grappled with questions about the taste, affordability, and healthiness of fats.

Join us for a lecture by Jonathan E. Robins, the 2016 Dean's Fellowship recipient in the History of Home Economics in the College of Human Ecology.

Cornell's home economists deftly navigated early controversies, and used public outreach campaigns through the World Wars and Depression to explain practical uses of the new fats and the science behind them. The post-war debates over fat, cholesterol, and heart disease demonstrated the continuing importance of home economists as communicators, as faculty and extension workers translated technical--and often contradictory--research findings for public audiences. These debates also highlighted the ways in which researchers in other disciplines had appropriated nutrition as their own domain, however, divorcing food from its social context.

Robins is a historian of commodities, and assistant professor of global history at Michigan Technological University. His first book, Cotton and Race across the Atlantic (University of Rochester Press, 2016) examined the linked processes that reshaped cotton agriculture in colonial Africa and the American South. He is currently writing a global history of the oil palm tree, and a history of fat in the industrial food system.

Refreshments served.

Event Type

Lecture, Presentation


College of Human Ecology, Cornell University Library, Mann Library


che, history, home economics, Cornell University Library, Mann Library, human ecology


Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Lynn Bertoia

Contact Phone

(607) 255-5406


Jonathan E. Robins

Open To

Free and open to all

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