series event

​​A Colonial Metabolism: food, nutrition and extraction in Malawi​

In this paper, Professor Megan Vaughan develops the concept of a colonial metabolism through an examination of the ways in which rural communities in colonial Malawi adapted their food systems in the face of the new demands of the colonial economy in the mid-twentieth century.

Stored food in Malawi

Drawing on the insights of recent scholarship in environmental anthropology, interspecies studies, the microbiome and the ‘Anthropocene’, Professor Vaughan re-examines the work of colonial scientists to explore the sources of nutrition that under-pinned a system of colonial extraction, paying particular attention to ‘wild’ foods, insects and the technologies of food processing. This forms part of a larger and longer story of Malawi’s food system, of debates on the country’s record of food shortages and malnutrition, and of current challenges to a system of maize production highly dependent on the importation and subsidisation of artificial fertilisers. ​ 


Professor Megan Vaughan, UCL

​​Megan Vaughan is Professor of African History and Health at the Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL. She previously held positions at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford and began her academic career teaching at the University of Malawi. Her interdisciplinary work has mostly focused on the history of environment, agriculture, nutrition and gender in Malawi and Zambia. She has also published on the history of colonial medicine and psychiatry and on slavery in the Indian Ocean. Her most recent collaborative research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, examined the social and historical aspects of ‘chronic’ disease in sub-Saharan Africa (Vaughan, Adjaye-Gbewonyo and Mika eds, Epidemiological Change and Chronic Disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, UCL Press, 2021). ​ 


Free and open to all, online and in person. No registration required. A recording of this session will be available after the event on this page.


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