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November 15, 2012

The Smithsonian Digs Into Food

By Erin Schumaker | Museums

Hugh Talman, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Opened earlier this week, “Food: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000”—a new permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History—is expected to be a tasty hit, chronicling the evolution of what postwar America eats. “It’s a complicated show, but it’s also very accessible,” says museum curator Paula Johnson. “People are going to see objects that relate to things they know.”

Who better to demonstrate the changing nature of American appetites than Julia Child, America’s most-beloved chef. Child’s kitchen, which she donated to the museum in 2001, served as inspiration for the larger exhibit and features hundreds of items, including her diploma from Le Cordon Bleu and props from her award-winning television show, The French Chef.

The rest of the exhibit, a blend of artifacts, graphics and video, is divided into four sections. “Resetting the Table” highlights the influx of new foods and flavors into America’s culinary fabric—a phenomenon attributed to immigration and the back-to-the-land movements of the ’60s and ’70s that spurred the popularity of local and organic cuisine. “Wine for the Table” examines the rise of American vineyards after 1950, from their origins in California to today, and “New and Improved” covers science and technology, from increased food production and distribution to the modern-day prominence of on-the-go eating.

“Open Table” closes the show. More a forum than an exhibit, visitors are encouraged to engage in spirited discourse around a 22-foot-long communal table. The topic? Food, of course. 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-633-3129; americanhistory.si.edu.