The Lemelson Center serves up food for tomorrow

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center is dedicated to the study of invention and innovation in the history of the United States. The challenge of fulfilling such a broad mandate is what makes the Lemelson Center such an exciting and dynamic hub of activity. It is our responsibility to explore invention and innovation through a wide array of subjects and topics. From the latest inventions in nanotechnology to the radical innovations found in skateboard culture—there are no subjects beyond our interest.

In all that we do, the Lemelson Center strives to live its mission: to be innovative. We are at our best when our scholarship and programming bring scholars, inventors, and other practitioners together with a broad range of audiences to explore the history of invention and innovation in new and exciting ways. Our recent Food for Tomorrow symposium, held at the National Museum of American History on November 5-6, 2010, provides a wonderful example of what can happen when the public joins together with scholars, innovators, and inventors in an open dialogue about the history of invention and where future innovations will lead us.

The two-day program, developed in collaboration with the museum’s Food and Wine History Project, encouraged participants to “eat, drink, . . . and learn” through the discovery of invention as part of our daily menu. Specifically, what role does invention and innovation play in what we eat and how we eat it—in the past and in the future?

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Symposium events included a food truck muster at the museum featuring cupcakes, french fries, Korean tacos, salads, lobster rolls, and more!

The Food for Tomorrow program, (or menu, if you will) featured presentations by some of the nation’s leading scholars, inventors, writers, scientists, and molecular gastronomists who engaged the public audience—and each other—to think innovatively about the ways in which we produce, prepare, and consume our food. Lively discussions challenged all of us to consider how new innovations will shape these efforts in the future. As one might expect, there were stark differences of opinion about these critical issues but, significantly, many commented that the symposium served to make them consider these questions in new and different ways.

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Public programming for the symposium included making hydroponic gardens in Spark!Lab with Resident Eccentric Steve Madewell.

It is important to the Lemelson Center to continue this dialogue about the future of food beyond the two-day symposium. In this spirit, the Lemelson Center will feature Food for Tomorrow as the central theme of its podcast series, Inventive Voices, throughout 2011. In this way, we will provide the opportunity for our symposium presenters to share their innovative insights and include you in the conversation. The Inventive Voices podcast series is available through the Lemelson Center’s website or may be downloaded from iTunes.

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Attendees sample wines from innovative East Coast vineyards.

The symposium was launched with the film premier of Truck Farm!, a whimsical look at the true story of urban farms taking root in New York City. From a self-sustaining Staten Island barge to a 6,000-square-foot market garden atop a Brooklyn roof, these gardens are breathing new life into old cities. We were thrilled to have filmmakers Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, the Peabody Award-winning co-creators of King CornBig River, and The Greening of Southie, at the museum to discuss their newest film. The Lemelson Center is very pleased to feature Ian Cheney as our guest in our first podcast of this year’s series to share his unique perspective about the future of food with you.

Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis with their truck farm.

Listen to the podcast


Jeffrey Brodie is the deputy director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.