Article ID: CBB001320541

FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950--2000: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (2013)


The strengths of food as a subject for a historical museum are the same as those that have led to its popularity among scholars, writers, and the public.2 Food is elemental, one of the main ways we connect to the world [End Page 947] around us. On our plates, the labors of those who till the soil become our sustenance. Eating is also a highly personal act, an expression of social and cultural values, ethnic traditions, regional differences, and national identity. By using food to tell the story of life in the United States since 1950, the exhibition's curators draw connections among a number of historical topics: technological changes and environmental transformations, shifts in rural livelihoods and suburban lifestyles, the health and labor of producers and consumers, and profound social and cultural shifts whose effects continue to reverberate. Click for larger view Fig 1. At the entrance to FOOD, visitors get their first peek into Julia Child's kitchen, and learn that, Between 1950 and 2000, new technologies and cultural changes transformed how and what we eat. (Source: National Museum of American History. Reprinted with permission.) The choice of time period strengthens the exhibition in two main ways. First, it constrains what could otherwise be a sprawling narrative, by focusing on an interval of immense changes in the way Americans raised and consumed their food, marked primarily by standardized products, new distribution networks, and increased processing. Indeed, one might argue that, until the postwar era, a truly national food system and diet did not exist. Second, focusing on the recent past allows FOOD to examine transformations that most adult visitors have lived through. By using familiar objects and recognizable meals to tell a larger history of technological and social change, FOOD gives visitors the opportunity to place their own recollections in historical context and to participate in intergenerational storytelling, as older visitors share their memories with younger companions.


Description Review of the Smithsonian exbibit of the same name.

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Authors & Contributors
Zachmann, Karin
Stoff, Heiko
Davids, Mila
Forino, Imma
Berkers, Eric
Thoms, Ulrike
Technology and Culture
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Journal of Food Science
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of Southern History
History and Technology
University of North Carolina Press
University of Georgia Press
Stichting Historie der Techniek
Rowman & Littlefield
New York University Press
MIT Press
Food science; food technology
Food and foods
Food industry and trade
Food preservation
Nutrition; dietetics
Household technology
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
20th century, early
21st century
19th century
18th century
United States
Southern states (U.S.)
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

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