Back in November, Edward Rothstein wrote in The New York Times about a new food exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Called “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture,” the exhibit is, as described by Rothstein, “an ambitious feast of a show, with oﬀerings for every taste, even the most exotic.” (Writers admission: I have not been to the exhibit, although after reading the article, I can’t wait to attend. It’s open through August 11, 2013).
The wide variety of “oﬀerings” in the exhibit include a working kitchen dedicated to understanding sensory perceptions; breakfasts around the world (Australia to Michael Phelps); Scoville Heat Units (revealing the lack of heat in jalapenos, as compared to a pepper variety in Trinidad); and much, much more, I am sure. Rothstein suggests that there is a larger theme running through the exhibit, namely, how cultures transform nature, and that many of these transformations have unintended, negative consequences for nature and culture (such as lack of diversity, waste). While in the end he concludes “the exhibition is too diverse and rich to settle for a simple message,” Rothstein does give the exhibit a big thumbs up.
I did visit one museum food exhibit this fall — at MUMCI, the Modelo Museum of Science and Industry in Toluca, Mexico. The museum, opened in 2004 by Grupo Modelo (think beer!) and, housed in the original Grupo Modelo beer factory, is a multimedia educational space with exhibit rooms devoted to industry (agriculture, manufacturing), and science (physics, chemistry and biology). Having visited wineries and distilleries around the world, I was thrilled to learn more about beer making.
However, I was not at MUMCI for beer. I was at MUMCI for pasta, as part of World Pasta Day, organized by the International Pasta Organization and AMEXIGAPA, the Mexican Pasta Association. Earlier in the day I attended and spoke at the annual World Pasta Day conference. But now, in the evening, I was at MUMCI for the Gala Dinner and the Opening of The World of Pasta, a new interactive exhibition that opened on October 25, 2012 – World Pasta Day – thanks to support from the Mexican pasta company, Grupo La Moderna,
Designed especially for children and families, the interactive exhibit teaches the science of pasta – from the ﬁeld to the fork. The ﬁrst stop in the exhibit is a wheat ﬁeld and a vegetable garden (wheat types, fruits and vegetables, cultural practices). The House of Nutrition highlights healthy eating through interactive activities (3-D gourmet dish, label reading, nutrition concepts), while the Metabolism Center focuses on teaching nutritional concepts like metabolism, digestion, glycemic index and body mass index). Moving on, the pasta factory unveils the secrets of pasta production processes, from durum wheat to ﬁnal packaging. A robot dressed as a chef is the star of Al Dente Restaurante, advising on cooking and “dressing” pasta. Finally, the library focuses on pasta and ancient history, including a giant crossword puzzle as a ﬁnal test of knowledge.
For the New Year, think about learning more about food via a food-focused museum visit. Whether you’re interested in a particular cuisine, culture, ingredient, or the big picture, there are a number of treasures to visit. Check out the list below for a sampling of food-related museum exhibits. If you know of any that are not listed please let us know and we would be glad to add them.
Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Museum on Main Street, Smithsonian Institution, Traveling Exhibition
Key Ingredients: America by Food
NY Food Museum, New York
Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Washington DC
FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000
Southern Food and Beverage Museum, New Orleans
The Canada Agriculture Museum, in collaboration with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Traveling Exhibition
Food for Health