Visitors to the FOOD exhibition will encounter the following main sections.
FOOD: The Exhibition
Julia Child's Kitchen
Legendary cook and teacher Julia Child (1912–2004) had a tremendous impact on food and culinary history in America. Through her books and television series, which spanned forty years, she encouraged people to care about food and cooking. She inspired many Americans to conquer their fears of the unfamiliar and to expand their ideas about ingredients and flavors, tools and techniques, and meals in general.
This kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home provides both a starting point and a backdrop for this exhibition on changing foods and foodways in America in the second half of the 20th century. It contains tools and equipment from the late 1940s, when Julia Child began her life in food, through to 2001, when she donated this kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution.
"New and Improved!"
Americans were greeted by claims of “New and Improved!” on more and more foods and consumer goods during the second half of the 20th century. Scientific approaches to farming and manufacturing brought higher yields and an abundant, affordable food supply. New appliances in the home that demanded greater energy consumption symbolized a prosperous, postwar American way of life for many. Optimistic attitudes about “progress” and “better living” continued throughout the century, even as many raised questions about the long-term effects of mass production and consumerism, especially on the environment, health, and workers.
Resetting the Table
Between 1950 and 2000, wars, famines, natural disasters, and global economic and social upheaval resulted in the resettlement of millions of people to the United States. Like immigrants before them, they brought their own foods, flavors, and ideas about what and how to eat, causing major resettings of the American table. Anxious to feed their families and communities of fellow exiles, new immigrants opened small stores, cafes, and food carts wherever they lived. Eventually they expanded into mainstream markets and established more ambitious restaurants and stores both within and outside their communities.
Over the past four decades, millions of Americans developed a taste for the once-exotic food made by once-exotic people who were now neighbors. They started eating and shopping in Little Vietnam, Little Korea, and Little El Salvador, and experimented with new ingredients, mostly breads, spices, condiments, and grains.
Wine for the Table
Wine—the fermented juice of grapes or other fruit—has been part of European life for centuries, but in America, wine traditions struggled to take root. From Thomas Jefferson’s failed efforts to cultivate French grapevines in Virginia to the onset of Prohibition, the desire to produce wine for the table on American soil seemed beyond reach. But in the second half of the 20th century, a community of California dreamers would spark a revolution in a bottle that not only realized Jefferson’s vision, but changed the entire world of wine.
Visitors will have the opportunity to take a seat at a large, communal table and engage in conversation about a wide range of food-related issues and topics.