Smithsonian explores America’s food history

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, looking at everything from the influence of immigrant populations, fast food, and the role of science and technology.

‘Food: Transforming the American Table’ opens with arguably the most influential culinary figure in the US, Julia Child, who has been credited with demystifying the notion of homecooked meals and making cooking accessible and pleasurable again at a time when the TV dinner was at the peak of its popularity.

The relocated kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts home kicks off the 353-square-metre exhibit, which goes on to explore the way the dinner table has evolved over the years from 1950 to 2000.

The exhibit is divided into four distinct sections displaying 160 objects.

‘Resetting the Table,’ for instance, explores the way new immigrants have introduced American palates to Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Central American flavours, in addition to looking at the rising interest in local, organic and artisanal foods.

‘Who did the cooking?’

The display will also explore the impacts of shifting gender roles and the way working patterns and family life changed the way families gathered around the dinner table.

America’s wine-making tradition is given homage in the exhibit, while the ‘New and Improved’ section looks at the way industrial agriculture and commercial food production lined grocery store shelves with convenience foods and how busy, harried lifestyles spawned the birth of drive-thru and take-out dining.

After exploring America’s food culture, visitors are then invited to pull up a seat at a 7-metre communal dining table to share their thoughts about the way the food landscape has changed in the US.

The latest exhibit comes on the heels of another American food-themed project by celebrity chef José Andrés, who transformed his Washington DC restaurant Café Atlantico last year into a pop-up eatery called America Eats Tavern. The project, in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives’ exhibit What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?, traced the journey of the government’s role in the American diet.




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