Food, Feed or Fuel? Soy in Western Consumer Societies, 1870-2020
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Soy has been part of the East-Asian food cultures for millennia. Since the 1870s, scientists such as the Austrian botanist Friedrich Haberlandt began to promote soy as a versatile crop for Western agriculture and nutrition. They highlighted soy?s high content of protein as a vegetarian alternative to animal protein. In the debate on Volksernährung (?people?s nutrition?), protein-rich food became associated with notions of ?strength? and ?wealth? with regard to class, gender and race. Food scarcity in the age of world wars and great depression in Europe opened up a window of opportunity for soy-based foodstuffs as cheap ?ersatz? of meat and dairy products. For instance, Nazi Germany promoted soyfoods for both civilian and military food provision in order to close the ?fat and protein gap?. However, soy?s flavour became associated with food for the poor in times of need; thus, middle-class tastes were reluctant to it, at least in times of plenty ? which were to come in the postwar ?welfare society?. Western uses of soy shifted from human food to animal feed in the context of the transition from plant-based to animal-based diets. The nutrition transition in North America and Western Europe was driven by corporate and state interests as well as middle-class lifestyles. However, the critique of the ?Western diet? by the food counterculture (e.g. Frances Moore Lappé?s 1971 bestselling book Diet for a Small Planet) renewed public interest in soyfoods as a sustainable alternative. Recently, the debate on soy?s uses as food vs. feed was extended to biofuels as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. The paper takes the debate on the multiple ? and often disputed ? uses of soy as a lens to Western consumer societies from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries.