Flesh-Formers or Fads? Historicising the Contemporary Protein-Enhanced Food Trend

O'Hagan, Lauren Alex (2022). Flesh-Formers or Fads? Historicising the Contemporary Protein-Enhanced Food Trend. Food, Culture and Society, 25(5) pp. 875–898.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15528014.2021.1932118


This paper explores the historical development of protein-enhanced foods in Great Britain and how they were marketed by food manufacturers to convince consumers that protein was essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It focuses particularly on Plasmon and Emprote – the two biggest brands of the early twentieth century – and uses multimodal critical discourse analysis to identify how semiotic resources are used to embed products in scientific rationality, promote health discourses and develop concepts of masculinity in accordance with the two strands of the physical culture movement. It argues that, just as today, food manufacturers capitalized upon the growing middle-class interest in functional foods and presented protein as an “elixir” that consumers should take to safeguard their health, the health of their families and the state of the nation. Overall, this study demonstrates that, even with today’s strict legislation on food packaging and advertising, protein food manufacturers still use similar techniques to sell their products. In gaining a better understanding of the historical use of semiotic resources in food advertising, we can assess the legitimacy of current food regulations and ensure that people make informed choices when shopping.

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