My nine year old son is a very picky eater. If he never tried a food before, he has no interest in trying it now - or ever.
When my father tried to outsmart him by pointing out, "How can you say you don't like something before you've tried it?" the then seven year old shot back, "I didn't say I didn't like it, I said I didn't want it."
On the other hand, my son is also the kind of kid who needs to know every little detail about something. Long after other people have lost interest, he is still pouring through encyclopedias, scouring the Internet and taking notes. (This is the kid who is currently teaching himself computer programming by writing out ASCII code for each letter of the alphabet on paper.)
Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture is a multimedia, multi-room installation that explores the complex and intricate food system that brings what we eat from farm to fork. In sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating, the exhibition illuminates the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world. With opportunities to taste seasonal treats in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, view rare artifacts from the Museum’s collections, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history, visitors experience the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history—and consider some of the most challenging issues of our time.
"Food both sustains our bodies and perpetuates our culture. Eating and meals is the place where families meet, business is conducted, and our senses are stimulated," said Mark Norell, Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the Museum and Co-Curator of Our Global Kitchen. "Anyone who appreciates food knows that cooking is an art form. The challenge today is to make this art form both healthy and sustainable, as well as delicious and beautiful."
Sections of particular interest include:
Grow: How Humans Modify Crops, Livestock
Our Global Kitchen highlights numerous methods growers currently use and also discusses potential new growing techniques, ranging from test-tube meat grown from animal stem cells—meant to reduce animal suffering, waste, and pollution—to farms planted in skyscrapers. In the future, many types of overlooked plant and animal species could provide solutions to known problems relating to food sustainability and ever-growing demand. In conjunction with the exhibition, the entrance to the Museum’s Judy and Josh Weston Pavilion features an 18-foot-tall hydroponic vertical growing system designed and maintained by Windowfarms. The 280-plant installation and a smaller unit in the exhibition gallery grows a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to showcase sustainable food-growing techniques and agricultural biodiversity in increasingly urban habitats.
Trade and Transport: How Food is Distributed Around the World
Behold a life-size re-creation of a 16th-century Aztec marketplace, or play Food Ships, an interactive game that demonstrates the challenges associated with transporting items like bananas, apples, tuna, and lamb around the world.
Cook: How Humans Have Transformed Food Across Cultures and History
Explore an interactive cooking table, where visitors “make” famous dishes eaten around the world. (Be forewarned, though, that nothing you actually do affects what happens in the cooking simulation, which is pretty disappointing for kids.)
Taste: How We Experience Flavor
In a first for an American Museum of Natural History exhibition, a working kitchen helps visitors explore the complexities of flavor and presents exhibits that explain the biology of taste. Live programming in the kitchen animates the experience of food and flavor through daily samplings and activities ranging from taste tests to demonstrations of dynamic cooking methods and visits from local farmers, chefs, and nutrition experts. (In other words, if Junior is getting cranky, stop by, there will be snacks.)
Eat: Contrasts in Too Little, Too Much
Discover what a week’s worth of groceries includes for families from 16 countries around the world, or look at historic dishes, from Mohandas Ghandhi’s childhood meal to Michael Phelps’s Olympian-sized breakfast
Celebrate: How Food Reflects Culture and Identity
Food does more than keep us alive. It connects us to the land, to cultural heritage, and to each other; in religious life and in family and national tradition, many foods become symbols, with meanings that shift as communities change and people move around the world. Our Global Kitchen takes visitors on a wide-ranging tour of foods that commemorate special occasions, including colorful Ukrainian Easter eggs, sugar skulls from Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and masks made for giant yams by the Abelam people of New Guinea who, at harvest time, display their largest yams in ceremonial dress and then exchange them with one another. A video invites visitors to join celebrations at a Thanksgiving dinner, a Chinese New Year, the Eid feast marking the end of Ramadan, Oktoberfest, and the Hindu festival Ganesh Chaturthi. We watched the whole thing through three times but, I must confess, what my kids really liked was sitting on the chairs in front of the screen, which are in the shapes of strawberries, apples, and other fruits.
For more information about AMNH, call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at amnh.org.
Love trying out the exotic foods of many lands? Check out "SKINNY SPICES: 50 Nifty Homemade Spice Blends That Can Turn Blah Healthy Eating Into Flavor-Rich Delicious Dining" by Erica Levy Klein, an electronic cookbook that's searchable by ingredient!