|Elsie Widdowson, British nutritionist|
We worked out nutritional content of food using books and calculators. Now-a-days this is all done by software without the need for the hard copy of the books. The book we all had was a copy of the ‘McCance and Widdowson’ Food Tables. I still have my well thumbed copy and the book is the the basis of the modern software systems that nutritionists and food scientists use.
Although as an undergraduate I didn’t really give the names McCance and Widdowson much thought it was later on in my career, thanks to the British Nutrition Foundation and my colleagues, that I really learned about Elsie Widdowson. She was born in 1906 and died in 2000 having spent a long and productive life as a pioneering female scientist. Along with her colleague Robert McCance, Elsie Widdowson was at the forefront of the Nutrition effort after World War II.
Elsie studied Chemistry at Imperial Collage London and in 1931 completed a PhD in Chemistry also at Imperial. Elsie met Robert McCance in the kitchens at Kings College Hospital in 1933, when she was studying to become a dietitian and he a junior doctor. Here, in the hospital kitchens, began a partnership that would last for 60 years!
It was at Cambridge, where they both worked, that the book I mentioned earlier was developed: a publication pivotal to nutritional science. But it wasn’t just for the development of this book that she has my respect - it was for the pioneering work around vitamin and mineral fortification, the rehabilitation of severely starved individuals and malnourishment around the world and important work on infant diets. This was an incredible female scientist who paved the way for nutrition scientists like me.
Dialogue is important, food is important and nutrition science has much to do. I think I am going to be kept busy in my line of work for a few more years!
The other issue I reflected on during my inaugural lecture was my career breaks (3 in total) and the fact that I have worked part time (3-days per week) since having my second son Auden in 2012. My eldest son David died from a rare disease called Alveolar Capillary Dysplasia in 2011 and, along with my husband we run a charity called The David Ashwell Foundation raising money for research into this usually fatal lung condition affecting newborns. In 2020 I was recognised by TimeWise as a Power Part-Timer. Since doing my lecture, I have received a number of emails thanking me for talking about working part-time and for acknowledging the army of helpers it requires to be a working parent.
If you want to help make a difference in people’s lives I can recommend a career in nutrition science….