Today, when Americans buy their food at the grocery store, it often comes in boxes or bags that provide details about the food’s contents. Labels not only let consumers know what ingredients went into making a particular food item, they also provide information about the item’s nutritional value and how it might fit into a person’s daily diet. Among other measures, the handy list of nutrition facts includes the number of calories in a given serving, as well as the amount of vitamins A and C.
At the turn of the twentieth century, though, the concept of a food calorie was still quite new, chemists were still a few years away from discovering the all-important vitamin, and nutritionists were just beginning to pull together the idea of a well-balanced diet. The ways in which the body used food to sustain life was still a bit of a mystery. Besides, the foods eaten by North Carolina’s rural residents commonly came straight from the farm, and food purchased at the store did not yet require such specific labels.
By the time the Home Demonstration division began serving up nutrition advice in the 1910s, a handful of important scientific discoveries had provided a glimpse of the ways in which the body put the foods we eat to work. Home Demonstration agents incorporated this new knowledge of nutrition into their lessons, explaining not only the how but also the why of healthy eating.