Food in focus at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History

Family at a food booth in Ecuador

The UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History is set to dish up plenty of food for thought over the coming months, beginning with a new exhibition that opens Friday, Feb. 24.

The exhibit, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” puts family meals in global perspective. Also on the menu is a generous helping of food workshops, food-related family events and a new conversation series exploring Oregon food cultures.

Based on the James Beard Foundation’s award-winning book by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, “Hungry Planet” explores family dinner tables around the world. It combines large-format photographs with interactive displays that examine food issues in the 21st century — what people eat, how much it costs and where it comes from — and how different cultures approach the growing, processing and consumption of everyday foods.

Organized by the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, the traveling exhibit covers 10 cultures. Visitors can visualize shopping for produce from world markets and track food as it travels from field to fork.

“‘Hungry Planet’ presents an opportunity to investigate food and foodways around the world, and to consider how diverse food cultures are being shaped by globalization,” said Jon Erlandson, executive director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

While global in scope, the exhibit also connects to local food cultures, featuring special sections on food security and food diversity in Lane County.

“Eating food grown or produced locally is important to us in here in Lane County,” said Angela Norman, director of the Lane County Farmers Market, which has partnered with the museum on the Hungry Planet project. “We take great pride in supporting our farmers and food artisans, and it’s exciting to share this local tradition through the new exhibit.”

Visitors can share personal culinary stories, contribute recipes and reflect on the local food scene. An interactive feature will be ceramic artist Michael J. Strand’s “Bowls Around Town” that will let residents take home a bowl and document its use. Selected images and recipes will become part of a display at the museum and online.

“It’s a celebration of the relationships between food, identity and culture around the world, and right here in Oregon,” said Ann Craig, exhibitions director at the museum.

Menzel’s large-format photographs of outdoor markets, restaurants and kitchen tables will provide a backdrop for displays of food-related artifacts curated by anthropologist Stephen Wooten, director of the UO Food Studies Program.

“Our curiosity about the foodways of other people — whether they’re our ancestors or neighbors or people across the globe — helps promote cultural understanding,” Wooten said. “The museum has tremendous collections of culinary items from around the world, so it’s a great resource for feeding that curiosity.”

Related events

A conversation series, “Let’s Talk Food,” will bring three noted Oregon food writers to the museum on the third Thursdays of March, April and May.

The series kicks off March 16 with Jennifer Burns Bright, whose talk, “Fish Tales: Traditions and Challenges of Seafood in Oregon,” will explore Oregonians’ relationships with local and imported seafood.

On April 20, Kristy Athens will discuss “Good Food, Bad Food: Agriculture, Ethics and Personal Choice,” covering the connections between consumer choice and food sustainability.

The talks conclude May 18 with “Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve History and Nourish Community,” presented by Jennifer Roberts. Participants will explore how recipes connect and create communities across time, distance and culture. Visitors are encouraged to bring a family or personal recipe to share with the group.

All talks will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the museum. The series is cosponsored by Oregon Humanities.

The museum also is teaming up with local chefs at Sprout! Regional Food Hub to offer a series of cooking classes. Participants can learn to make German sausages, tamales or a locally-sourced vegetarian meal.

A trio of museum workshops will introduce participants to the subtleties of sushi, the cuisine of Mali and the spices of India.

There’s food-focused fun in store for kids and families, too.

“What’s Cooking?” Family Day is Saturday, March 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors can explore the new exhibit, learn about food preservation techniques and enjoy snacks, crafts and hands-on activities. Admission is $10 per family (up to two adults and four children) and free for museum members. New family memberships will be available for half price during the event.

The exhibit and related programs are the result of a collaborative effort by the museum and a diverse team of local food advocates in addition to the Lane County Farmer’s Market and the UO Food Studies Program. Camas Country Mill, FOOD for Lane County, Huerto de la Familia, School Garden Project, Willamette Farm and Food Coalition, and the UO’s American English Institute and International Cultural Service Program all contributed resources and expertise.

—by Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History