Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

This project examines humanitarian nutrition and its history from the 19th century to the present day. Through archival research, fieldwork, oral history and the analysis of humanitarian handbooks, it examines how Victorian technologies such as the soup kitchen were transformed into contemporary mechanisms for emergency feeding. In many refugee crises around the world, emergency feeding is a central part of humanitarian action, and this project traces how changing understandings of the human body and its needs have affected the treatment of forcibly displaced populations. It explores the transformation from communal to individual designs, from vernacular to technical foods, and from personal to impersonal measurements, examining what shaped these changes, and how they reflect the wider socio-political concerns of the age. A book capturing the key lessons from this project has been published by Cornell University Press, entitled On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief. A journal article on a prominent humanitarian food product was published in 2018 by Social Studies of Science, entitled ‘Sticky technologies: Plumpy’nut®, emergency feeding and the viscosity of humanitarian design’. Further articles on programmes of food relief from the 1940s are in preparation.


  • Tom Scott-Smith
    Tom Scott-Smith

    RSC Director; Associate Professor of Refugee Studies and Forced Migration

Selected publications