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Food, farming and universal health: The Medical Testament and the organic movement

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The Medical Testament, a short pamphlet published by a group of English physicians in 1939, occupies a key place in the history of the organic movement. Widely cited by later advocates of organic farming, the document is today difficult to find and largely forgotten. Its arguments and its history bear close reading, however, particularly for the way they stitch together local and global evidence in favour of a specific view of human and ecological health. Highlighting the work of two career civil servants in British India - Robert McCarrison, a medical doctor and nutritionist, and Albert Howard, an agronomist and early champion of composting - the Medical Testament asserted the relevance of these men's work to the health of the inhabitants of Cheshire, and by extension to human health everywhere. The core claim of the Medical Testament - that human health was best secured by the consumption of fresh foods grown in well-managed soils - remains at once irrefutable and unprovable, a dream of universal health undercut by the disruptions of empire and industrialisation that helped bring that vision into perspective.
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Keywords: Cheshire; health; nutrition; organic farming; organic movement

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2018

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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