"On the excellence of the vegetable diet": Scurvy, Antoine Poissonnier-Desperrières's New Naval Diet and French Colonial Science in the Atlantic World
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 19, Number 2, Spring 2021
- pp. 322-359
- Additional Information
In the second half of the eighteenth century, French physician Antoine Poissonnier-Desperrièresproposed a fully vegetarian diet for the French Navy in an attempt to combat the effects of scurvy. France was investing heavily in revitalizing its Navy after the Seven Years War in an effort to gain ground against Britain after substantial French losses in the Atlantic world, and scurvy had a devastating impact on these efforts. Desperrières occupied a privileged position in the French Navy that allowed him to implement his plans on a limited number of naval expeditions, although his experimental vegetarian naval ration proved a failure at both preventing scurvy and convincing the Navy to change the ration for dependent sailors. Desperrières' ideas drew from the rise of scientific food expertise in France in this period, if not from the long history of principled vegetarianism in Europe, and his trials contributed to the longstanding cultures of empiricism that marked knowledge production in the Atlantic world. Nevertheless, Desperrières' theories of the causes and cures for scurvy reflected enduring conceptions of the relationship between human bodies, the foods they consumed, and the maritime environment. To his disappointment, Desperrières remained a marginal figure in the wider debates over scurvy that celebrated contemporaries such as James Lind and James Cook.