Public Lecture: Metabolic History: Food Economics, Dietary Advice and Epidemiological Change in Contemporary Ghana, Speaker: John Nott


16 November, 2021, via Zoom


1983 was a difficult year for many Ghanaians. The political and economic instability which had defined much of the 1970s intensified into the 1980s and, by 1983, the country suffered through the most severe and widespread food shortage on record. Unlike earlier famines, which were largely limited to isolated parts of the rural savannah, the 1983 crisis was felt most acutely in the cities which had grown exponentially over the course of the twentieth century. By highlighting the fragility of the postcolonial market economy, the 1983 crisis ushered in the radical economic liberalisation of the Structural Adjustment era. Over the next thirty-five years, this new, dominant form of political economy radically altered food markets, diets, and patterns of disease throughout the country, as well as seeping into the science which has evolved to analyse the health effects of these changes. Today, Ghana is said to bear a ‘double burden’ of diet-related disease—malnutrition and undernutrition present alongside new epidemics, broadly understood as metabolic disorders and inclusive of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Pulling at both the conceptual and empirical histories of nutrition since 1983, this lecture works towards a critical historical epidemiology of metabolic disease in contemporary Ghana, one which recognises the coproduction of both science and its subjects.

John Nott is an economic and medical historian, with complementary interests in demography, epidemiology, Science and Technology Studies, and medical anthropology. Until recently he was employed as a postdoctoral fellow at Maastricht University, where he worked on a comparative history of medical education. He will soon start a new position at the University of Edinburgh, researching the history of epidemiological science. While at MIASA, John is completing a book project which charts the changing relationship between food and health across Ghana’s diverse food economies since the late nineteenth century.