Skip to main content
Kenneth John Carpenter
In Memoriam

Kenneth John Carpenter

Professor of Experimental Nutrition, Emeritus

UC Berkeley
Kenneth John Carpenter died peacefully on October 13, 2016, in Oakland, California.

Born in London May 17, 1923, he attended Merchant Taylors’ school before going up to the University of Cambridge to read natural sciences (B.A. [Cantab], 1944), and then undertake a Ph.D. with Dr. Egon Kodicek at the Dunn Nutritional Laboratory (Ph.D. [Cantab], 1948). This formal education was interspersed with war work on nerve gases under Edgar — later Lord — Adrian, at the Physiological Laboratory. Characteristically, he combined all this with enrolling himself as an external student and obtaining a First in Economics at the University of London (B.Sc., 1948). He married Daphne Holmes in 1945.

In 1948 he was appointed scientific officer, and subsequently senior scientific officer, at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland, where he worked on the availability of energy and protein in animal feeds. This was followed by a sabbatical in the US at Harvard (1955-56). He then returned to Cambridge in 1956 as a lecturer at the School of Agriculture, and was elected in 1962 as a Fellow of his old college, Sidney Sussex. He played an enthusiastic part in collegiate life and was appointed Tutor for Graduate Students. He was promoted to a Readership in Nutrition in 1971. His wife Daphne died in 1974 after a long and debilitating illness, having had unfailing care and support from Kenneth. In 1977, following a year as Storer Lecturer at the University of California, Davis, he accepted an appointment as Professor of Experimental Nutrition at UC Berkeley. Meanwhile, he met Antonina (Nina) Borgman, who would become his second wife, and they set up home permanently in Oakland. His major teaching at Berkeley was in the area of food science and the experimental nutrition laboratory.

An important area of his research both at the Rowett and in Cambridge was on estimating lysine availability, and how it was affected by heating — a topic with important consequences in assessing the potentially damaging effects of traditional methods of preparing such foods as bulghur and corn. He was honored as a W. O. Atwater Memorial Lecturer (U.S. Department of Agriculture) in 1993 for his work on improving the diet and nutrition of people around the world.

At Berkeley his interests began to move towards the history of nutrition. In 1986 his History of Scurvy and Vitamin C appeared, which managed to be seminal and magisterial — read and admired by mainstream historians — but also extraordinarily readable. Kenneth had the ability to write with both elegance and exceptional logical clarity. Although he became emeritus in 1991, he continued his scholarship at Berkeley. In 1994 he published Protein and Energy: a Study of Changing Ideas in Nutrition, outlining the development of hypotheses, experimental testing, controversies and outcomes of national and international policies to increase protein supplies in developing countries. This was followed in 2000 by his equally successful and engaging Beriberi, White Rice, and Vitamin B: a Disease, a Cause, and a Cure. Then in 2003 he wrote the four-part “Short History of Nutritional Science” in the Journal of Nutrition, covering 200 years of the most important developments of new ideas: a remarkable achievement by anyone, let alone an octogenarian.

Kenneth was a man of exceptionally wide interests and enthusiasms. As a boy he had horrified his parents by wasting his pocket money — as they saw it — on collecting antiques; he had a particular passion for English Delftware, of which he presented some specimens to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but also for early paintings and prints: yet in Aberdeen he equally enjoyed attending the local music hall, and sessions of all-in wrestling. He was someone of immense integrity, whose penetrating critical intelligence might have been frightening were it not that he was extremely kind and supportive both of his family and of his colleagues, and especially the many students whom he encouraged and nurtured. He greatly enjoyed his role as a substitute father for Nina’s children, who in turn provided unceasing support during his last years, when dementia began to limit what he could do. He also had a strong social conscience, and after retirement devoted a great deal of time to the personal tuition and mentoring of local disadvantaged students, helping them to obtain university places.

He was survived by Nina; son Roger from his first marriage; grandchildren Alison and Jamie; great-grandchildren Maxim, Cleo and Rafe; and Nina's children, Marcus, Giana, Andrea and Lucia, and grandchildren Nicolas, Lily, Jameson, Ramsey, and Luke.

Barry Shane
Roger Carpenter
Janet King