Our Global Kitchen at The American Museum of Natural History

Our Global Kitchen is a special exhibit currently on display at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. I adore the museum, but I’ve never sprung for the cost of the special exhibits – I just couldn’t pass this one up, though! My Mom and I stopped in when we had some free time in NYC, and I’m so, so glad we did!

The exhibit is a pretty substantial look at our food: what the world eats, our food system, how we cook and how we use food to celebrate. There is an additional fee for this exhibit on top of the ticket price ($12.50/person for us) and gives you a slotted time to enter. The exhibit is a walk through, though, and the timing is more to make sure that it’s not too crowded at any given time. If you show up a little early and ask nicely, they’ll most likely let you in.

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The first areas you walk through deals with the “grow” and “trade” aspects of the exhibit. Big disks show slide shows of growing and transporting different food products and give you a feel of things to come.

There’s also a few wall of statistics that greet you. The context of the exhibit builds on these, but even just looking at them alone makes an impact.

Especially when you have ones like this so close to each other on the wall.

A short film about growing and transporting food opens the exhibit up. The first few rows of seating were fruit chairs.

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They were actually quite comfy, too! Mom sat in a green apple, I took the watermelon.

After the film, you really dove into the rest of the exhibit. The section about growing was fascinating. It showed a mix of the history of agriculture, current method and what’s in store for the future. My Mom was enamoured by the hanging edible garden they had – it was specially designed for apartment living in NYC (and they were selling them in the gift shop).

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There were displays on crop diversity – or lack there of. One of the things I learned was that most of the world’s bananas are one variety – and that variety is currently being threatened (by a fungus or bacteria, I forget which). Apparently, we’re in danger of losing those bananas completely and scientists are trying to work out a solution.

There were some models of  different farming systems – this one is showing a possible future solution to farming.

This display was a visual representation of the food the average US family throws away each year. I know I’m guilty of not using things up, but seeing this box so full kind of blew me away.  And made me want to do better in my own home.

Next we moved into the “cook” and “taste” sections. These were, for obvious reasons, my favorite. They were also the most interactive. One really fun feature were these scent boxes – you pressed the button, leaned in and got a whiff of whatever ingredient was featured. This one was chocolate! It was a lot of fun to play with them all, although, I sort of wish they had covered the names so you could guess what you were smelling.

There was a giant display of cookbooks from around the world, both old and new. It was interesting to see how similar they were.

The US was represented by a vintage copy of The Joy of Cooking – so neat!

Probably the highlight of the whole exhibit was that they have a real, working kitchen smack in the middle of it. They have a different guest chef every few weeks. Chef Juan Pablo Chavez was there when we went, and he had cooked up a delicious tomatillo mole sauce (once my garden starts spewing tomatillos, I’ll be making and sharing!). There was also fresh jimica to sample. So good!

The theme of the kitchen changes regularly, so it’s definitely an exhibit you could come back to several times and always find something exciting and different.

Outside of the kitchen, they had an interactive cooking table. It was a giant touch-screen board which walked you through making a few recipes – from start to clean up (it even included setting the table).

We “made” grilled salmon with peach salad. (The recipe is here, if you’re interested!) I thought it was a great way to show people who might be intimidated by cooking that it’s totally doable. The kids that were going through the exhibit when we were absolutely loved it – and cried when their Mom made them move on and see something else!

The exhibit then moved on to displays about what people eat, past and present. I thought one of the most striking displays were the pictures of families around the world with their week’s groceries laid out in front of them. Each caption included how much the family spends and the overweight average for their country.

It was amazing to see the differences.

They had areas set up where you could sit at a historical figure’s dining table to “eat” with them. I picked Jane Austen because she had ice cream, of course.

No electricity, but ice cream.

They also had displays of what real people would have eaten, including Michal Phelps’ famously large training breakfast.

I remember reading the articles about this during the Olympics, but actually seeing it laid out is a whole other thing. It seems especially large after looking at the figures about hunger throughout the exhibit.

At the end of the food section, there was some speculation on things to come.

The one that really caught my eye was the breathable chocolate. If someone is actually working on this, I’d just like to throw it out there that I’d happily offer up my services as a beta tester.

The exhibit wrapped up with another film – complete with more fruit chairs – about how we use food to celebrate. It really drove home the point how universal and ingrained in most cultures celebrating with food really is. They also showed some visitor-submitted celebrating food, like gingerbread cookies and this Christmas octopus.

The submissions are curated from Instagram via the hashtag #CelebrateFood. When I cook up something good, I’ll be adding it to Instagram. How fun would it be to say that something you cooked was on display at the American Museum of Natural History?!

Our Global Kitchen will be at the American Museum of Natural History until August 11, 2013. If you’re in the city before than and have an opportunity to check it out, I highly recommend it!

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