Food, Health and Income

John Boyd Orr (1880-1971) was a Scottish nutritional scientist, farmer and campaigner. He is a food hero because he engaged with the political world and used his scientific knowledge to improve global nutrition, which is why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.

Born in Ayrshire he trained as a doctor at Glasgow University where he won a gold medal for his thesis. In 1913 he was appointed to oversee the development of a new research institute at Aberdeen University. This project was interrupted by the First World War during which he served in the Army as a doctor and was at the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele. Returning to Aberdeen in 1919 he used his considerable financial and persuasive skills to develop the Rowett Institute which was carrying out research into animal nutrition.

He was asked by the British government to investigate the idea of a national food policy and the resulting report, Food, Health and Income, was published in 1937. It made uneasy reading for those in government. It mustered considerable research to demonstrate that many people in Britain were simply too poor to eat a nourishing diet. The report stated,
“… a diet completed adequate for health according to modern standards is reached only at an income level above that of 50% of the population.” John Boyd Orr, Food, Health and Income, MacMillian, p.44

During World War Two he advised Lord Woolton and helped shape the wartime diet for the better. In 1945 he retired as the Director of the Rowett Institute and began a new international career becoming as the first Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation. He proposed a World Food Board to distribute food to where it was needed. It was an ambitious plan and when it failed Orr resigned in disappointment. It may have been a Utopian plan but you have to love him for trying.


A Scottish Entrepreneur

Thomas Lipton (1848-1931) established a very successful chain of grocery shops and the Lipton tea brand.  He was also rather keen on sailing yachts.

He left school at the age of 13 and as a young man spent several years working in the USA.  In 1870 he returnd to Scotland in 1870 and, at first, he helped his parents run their small shop in the Gorbals but he soon opened a shop of his own – Lipton’s Market at 101 Stobcross Street, Glasgow.  Reflecting back on this first shop Thomas Lipton wrote,

“I worked tremendously hard to have the shop spick and span … but it was to the stock I paid most attention. Most of it came direct from Ireland, and it was purchased at such keen rates that on my opening day I was announcing prices which quickly caused a sensation among my competitors all over the district. … My first day’s drawings were two pounds, six shillings — considerably more than we had ever drawn in a single day at the wee shop in Crown Street.”  [1]

Within 20 years of opening his first shop Thomas Lipton had a chain of 300 stores across Britain.  Central to his success was his determination to cut out the middleman.  By going directly to suppliers he managed to buy products more cheaply than his competitors.  Sometimes this included setting up his own factories, for example in 1883 he set up a meat packing plant in Chicago.  When he entered the tea trade he used similar methods, bypassing the traditional wholesalers and going directly to tea growers in Sri Lanka.

His entrepreneurial zeal made Thomas Lipton a rich man and earned him a place in high society.  Despite a keen interest in the ladies he never married and on his death a large proportion of his wealth went to good causes in Glasgow.  He also left his yachting yachting trophies, to the city’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

[1] Leaves from the Lipton Logs by Thomas Lipton, London, Hutchinson & Co. 1931