American Food History Project

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has researched and documented American food history for more than 50 years. Food is a shared human experience that instantly connects with personal, family and national memories and food history serves as an entry point to our past, present and future. The museum takes food history and many related topics to the nation through its exhibitions, ongoing research and collecting efforts, online offerings and dynamic public programs.

 

Exhibition:

FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950 – 2000
Julia Child’s Kitchen
Ongoing

“FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000” examines some of the major changes in food and wine in postwar America. From the impact of innovations and new technologies, to the influence of social and cultural shifts, the exhibition considers how these factors helped transform food and its production, preparation and consumption, as well as what we know about what’s good for us. The public is invited to take a seat at a large, communal table in the center of the exhibition to share their own thoughts and experiences about food and change in America. Julia Child’s home kitchen, with its hundreds of tools, appliances and furnishings, serves as the opening story of the museum’s first major exhibition on food history. https://americanhistory.si.edu/food

 

Collections:

Highlights from the collections include a 1950 Krispy Kreme doughnut making machine; a 1954 Swanson’s TV dinner tray; microwave ovens from 1955 and 1976; a mid-century Tortilladora; a fondue pot and crepe pan from the 1970s; cooking tools used on a 1970s communal farm; a 1973 Weber kettle grill; and the two bottles of California wine—the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars—that won the 1976 Paris tasting, bringing international recognition to American winemaking.

 

Programming:

Regular programs and demonstrations bring visitors together for discussions with staff and special guests that start with history and expand to the present and future of American food. These activities include weekly live cooking demonstrations and a number of daytime programs, “After Hours” evening events and the annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend will be featured in the new Wallace H. Coulter Performance Plaza.

 

Smithsonian Food History Weekend
Thursday Oct. 22 – Saturday Oct. 24
Museum-wide

The Smithsonian Food History Weekend, a cornerstone of the museum’s American Food History Project, will gather culinary leaders, researchers, practitioners and scholars every fall to inspire visitors with culinary demonstrations, hands-on learning opportunities, tastings, roundtable discussions and more. Scheduled this year to run Oct. 22– 24, the program will include distinct events spread throughout the course of the weekend to present opportunities to participate, explore and eat. More information is available at bit.ly/FoodWeekend.

 

The Food History Roundtables, Friday, Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., are free and open to the public and will bring leading researchers, practitioners and thinkers together to address big issues around food and innovation in America. Topics include “Innovation and Food: Beyond What’s New,” “Growing Innovations,” “Innovation and the Business of Food” and “Innovation on the Plate.” More information is available at bit.ly/FoodRoundtable.

 

The Food History Festival, Saturday, Oct. 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will present a full day of free activities for visitors of all ages that will spark conversations about the past, present and future of food innovations in America. Activities will include live cooking demonstrations, modern and historic agriculture vehicles on display, film screenings, curator-led exhibition tours, hands-on learning activities, rarely exhibited objects on display and tours of the Victory Garden. More information is available at bit.ly/FoodHistFestival

 

Brewing up Innovation: After Hours at the Food History Weekend, Saturday, Oct. 24, 6:30 p.m., is a ticketed event that is part of the popular American History After Hours series. Guests may enjoy a pint and explore how brewing in the U.S. has evolved over time. Purchase tickets at bit.ly/BrewInnovation.

 

Demonstration Kitchen, Wallace H. Coulter Plaza

Against the backdrop of the dramatic Innovation Wing, this performance space and demonstration stage with a working kitchen highlights Americans’ quest for creativity, business and innovation.

The demonstration kitchen will host live food demonstrations, discussions and cooking programs for visitors of all ages, as well as to ticketed evening events and the first annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend. The ingredients used in each demonstration are made possible courtesy of Wegmans. The equipment and tools used for these programs are gifts courtesy of Sur la Table and their vendors, Le Creuset, John Boos, KitchenAid, Kitchen IQ, Silpat, SC Johnson. The museum is grateful for their support.

 

Food Fridays
Fridays; 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“Food Fridays” showcases a guest chef and a Smithsonian host preparing a recipe while discussing its ingredients, culinary techniques and place in American history. Museum staff are partnering with Wegmans Food Markets, Sur La Table, L’Academie de Cuisine and Restaurant Associates to develop programs around historical themes. Afterwards, visitors may purchase a dish inspired by the demonstration in the museum’s Stars & Stripes Cafe. More information can be found at http://bit.ly/foodfridays.

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After Hours

“American History (After Hours)” is a new program series that mixes intriguing historical topics and modern-day approaches with delicious food and drinks. Tickets ($40) and more information for these events can be found at: http://bit.ly/historyPM.
 

  • August 20: FOOD in the Garden: Seeds of Innovation

    Hybrids. Heirlooms. Clean seeds. Join researchers and historians as we explore what exactly do those terms mean and why seeds and seed biodiversity are important. The Food History Project teams up with Smithsonian Gardens to explore “Seeds of Innovation” outside the museum in the Victory Garden.
  • September 17: FOOD in the Garden: How Does Your Garden Grow?

    What do the kitchen gardens of our founding fathers, the victory gardens of WWII and edible rooftops have in common? Good design of course! The Food History Project teams up with Smithsonian Gardens for tastes, talks and tours outside in the museum’s Victory Garden.
  • October 24: Brewing up Innovation: After Hours at the Smithsonian Food History Weekend

    Enjoy a pint of innovation as we explore how new technologies have impacted the field of American brewing. Part of the Smithsonian Food History Weekend.
     
  • November 11: Science Under Glass

    What impact has glass made on scientific and culinary discoveries in America? Join us for demonstrations, cocktails and innovative food that all benefit from the art and science of glass. This program is held in conjunction with a new display, Science under Glass.”
     

The Business of Chocolate: From Bean to Drink
Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Making chocolate in the colonial era was a complex, global business and a multi-step process from tree to drink. Through demonstrations, visitors will gain a deeper understanding of the role of chocolate in American history and American life.

 

Ask a Farmer
Wednesdays Aug. 19; Sept. 16; Oct. 21; Nov. 18; Dec. 16; 2 p.m.

Using modern technologies to transcend the limitations of geography, this program brings together visitors with American farmers for conversations about how they are innovating American agriculture and to develop broader understanding of the American agricultural world.