“The Child Needs Milk and Milk Needs a Market”

The politics of nutrition in the interwar Yishuv


“It is exciting to see a frail peddler transformed into a farmer (and) a dainty lawyer turned into a cattle breeder, but even better is raising a strapping generation from the start. Nutrition experts say that milk builds muscle… The League of Nations Nutrition Committee says that a handsome physique and improved health are usually found among the races where milk takes up an important place in their diet”. [1]

Celebrating the success of one full moth of the milk-in-school project, prominent Zionist technocrats gathered in Jerusalem on a June evening of 1938. Linking food, physiques and national ideologies, their words echoed prevailing ideas concerning the nutritious value of milk, promoted by League of Nations and other international experts. However, milk in the Yishuv (the Jewish settlement in Palestine) had its own specific context.

This presentation will employ a 20th century superfoodmilk – as lens into the world of nutrition in the Yishuv. Applying a critical nutrition studies approach, it will show how national ideologies and national economies often influence which foods gain the title of “most nutritious”. Making it difficult for consumers to differentiate between scientific advice and national instructions, this presentation will explain how and why dairy was promoted as the ultimate superfood in the Yishuv, essential for building healthy Jewish bodies in a healthy Hebrew nation.


[1] Milk Project for School Children Committee on behalf of the Health Department and Education Department, The Milk Project in Schools (Jerusalem, 1938), p. 16. [Hebrew]