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The vital city: public analysis, dairies and slaughterhouses in nineteenth-century Britain

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Otter, Chris

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Abstract Despite the premises of classical political economy, which urged limited intervention in the production and circulation of vital commodities, nineteenth-century British government became heavily involved in the urban food supply. This paper explores three areas where such governmental intervention was evident: the constitution of a network of public analysts devoted to the chemical sampling of foodstuffs, the increasing regulation of the dairy industry, and the construction of public abattoirs. Although these regulatory systems suggest an active, interventionary form of government, they can still be seen as broadly liberal in nature: they usually involved a substantial degree of delegation, pragmatism and negotiation, and their implementation was slow and geographically patchy. Nonetheless, substantial changes in urban nutritional practices can be discerned by 1900. By this time, little food was produced within British cities: much came from remote parts of Britain or overseas, and the supply was far more technologically-mediated than in earlier centuries. In the milk and meat trades, we can see the first moves towards industrialisation. Securing the vitality of the city, therefore, had entailed the development of distinct regulatory strategies and the emergence of new nutritional geographies, both of which would significantly shape the dietary history of the twentieth century.
Document language English
Publication Year 2006
Page/Pages p. 517-537
Journal Cultural Geographies, 13 (2006) 4
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)