Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture
of an Exhibition
Published on March 16, 2013, Modified on March 20, 2013
Visit Date: Year 2013
As soon as you walk into the cave-like entrance of this exhibition, large images of food, of family, of farming dance in front of your eyes to music. Words pop up; expressions used to describe ways we think about food. Delicious. Healthy. Fast Food. Organic. Breakfast. Play. Cooking. The images and words continue to slowly pour into the space in time with the music and I feel rooted to the spot overcome with how pervasive food is in my life.
Food says something about how we think of our bodies, our culture, and our world. The thread running throughout the exhibition woven into the objects, interactives, dioramas, and text gently reminds the visitor of how deeply influential food is to our lives. There are implications and effects of how we get our food, how we use it, and how we think about it.
The exhibitions focused on the topics of Grow, Trade and Transport, Cook, Taste, Eat, and Celebrate. It explores everything from where food starts to how it gets to our markets and kitchens and then how and why we eat it. To start, visitors follow a pathway exploring different farming techniques and how certain foods have been manipulated and evolved to better suit our agriculture pursuits. Essentially, how we tamed the wild.
Next, a diorama of an ancient Aztec market comes into view. Hungry for iguanas and cactus leaves? Well, you’ve come to the right place! The panels here discuss the many ways food was transported before the days of global trade. More than that, it provides a snap shot of the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. The curators have reached back through time in order to show an historical time of both familiar and unfamiliar. The diorama is also paired with two interactive screens for visitors to explore how global transportation is structured and operated presently.
The second half of the exhibition takes a look at how food is made all over the world and through history. Visitors are invited in to a kitchen to try a sample of the food theme of the week, learn a little bit about it, or try a taste test. The kitchen is well built: roomy, clean, and mirrors hanging from the ceiling so a large group can still watch the kitchen volunteers as they prepare the food samples. Visitors transition into the culture portion from the kitchen. Here, meals and food specific to certain areas and time periods are displayed. Travel through time and space to get a glimpse into how and what people ate. Catch lunch with a Chinese emperor, breakfast with Michael Phelps, or sit and chat with Jane Austen as she enjoys a frozen treat of ice cream.
Although the front half of the exhibition is extremely text heavy, overall there is something there for all ages and backgrounds. Younger visitors who have not yet learned to read can still grasp a narrative through the objects. Objects were placed throughout every part of the exhibition. Another amazing aspect of Our Global Kitchen is that visitors have opportunities to use all five of their senses. There are things to smell, things to taste, to touch. Sounds are present throughout the exhibits as well in the form of music, background tracks for the dioramas, and videos. There were also a few interactive components as well for visitors to play with.
One of these great components is a large, low standing table with an interactive screen top. There are four stations for visitors, each station showing the process for cooking four different dishes. Visitors move through the video sequence of the cooking process using available buttons on the screen. They can restart, go back, or skip ahead to different parts of the cooking process for each dish. The table is well designed so even if there is not a station free, there is still plenty of space to watch what is transpiring.
On the website, visitors can find summaries of the main topics explored in this exhibition along with some videos and additional resources. The additional resources not only contain sites to visit for more information but ways in which people can be proactive in addressing the issues mentioned in Our Global Kitchen. For instance, I can learn how to grow my own window farms, calculate my water usage, and ways I can make more sustainable choices about my food consumption.
The gem among the technological entry points is the option for visitors to submit pictures of food and these photos are then displayed within the exhibition. Visitors use Instagram, an app for smart phones and ipads, to capture food they have either made, harvested, or about to eat. At a kiosk next to the kitchen within the exhibition, visitors can sort and look through the photo galleries.
This exhibition encapsulated the great feeling of diversity characteristic of New York: delicious, delicious New York City. Our Global Kitchen is a perfect marriage of locale and exhibition topic. I have been exposed to more kinds of food here than I have anywhere else. You can try food from almost every corner of the world here in New York City and can get it anywhere, from the little corner stall to a four star restaurant.
There was space in this exhibition for everyone no matter his or her background because food is something we all share in common. James Clifford in Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century discusses ways in which museums can be contact zones: places where people meet who are separated by culture. It is a place of gathering, discovery, and discussion. His definition is an exact embodiment of this exhibition. Through the magic of this topic and set-up, visitors find an engaging space not only to identify with but to explore others’ identities as well. This is a space for sharing of culture.
The exhibition ends with the note of celebration. Even though there are major issues of food consumption, farming, and distribution facing humankind as we move towards the future, it is the hope and strength of this commonality of food and celebration that will help carry us forward and find the solutions we need. Through our food, we celebrate and share our cultures. It is no mistake that meals are a time of fellowship. Even though our cultures may be different, we can still all sit down to break bread together.