During a recent business trip to DC I had time for one museum stop, an hour to spend at the National Geographic Museum down the street from our location. Upon arrival they had two special exhibits, the second arrived at only by walking through the first: “Food: Our Global Kitchen”. To be honest, I expected to be bored, really bored. I wanted to speed through and get to the dinosaurs fast! As I started, however, I discovered quite the opposite. I could have spent hours I was so engrossed. I found my imagination on fire, cooking up possibilities for an entire world of speculative fiction.
Sorry about the puns. I had to. It was too easy.
The first part of the exhibit included this model, part of a display on Urban Architecture and the Vertical Farming method. The white shell around the circular ramp represents the glass dome that would encircle it. The spiral structure allows for the most light, received from the most angles. The plants are all potted trays which are moved down the ramp as they grow. This structure brings countless sci-fi movie images to mind.
After passing through further displays on the science of food and its possibilities in the kitchen and in the world, the sections became more about history, sociology, myth and religion, all centered around the theme of meals. My favorite side room included glass enclosed sample meals from various people throughout time.
This display is a replication of the meal eaten by a 5000 year old man, Otzi. His dead body was covered in an avalanche and preserved for centuries. By dissecting his remains, scientists were able to discern the composition of his last meal. I hope you enjoyed it Otzi!
Walking through the food exhibit, I also learned that one of my favorite foods is considered a sacred gift. I am not talking about chocolate, although it has its own story of sacrifice, tyranny and gods. It is rice that throughout many Asian religious traditions is considered divine. Not only is it watched over by a rice goddess, but traditional beliefs held that each rice plant contains its own spirit or soul. If that wouldn’t make a fabulous story, what would?! I am thinking particularly of a vibrantly illustrated children’s picture book. Which reminds me…
Finishing up this exhibit, this photo among many caught my eye. Taken by a Danish photographer, whose name I wish I had captured, the simplicity, colors, subject and composition lend themselves to everything from a spectacular fairy tale grandchild of Goldilocks to something more sinister or surreal. As the girl lifts her face we could see she is not at all human, or we could learn that something behind this sweet child lurks in the darkness.An entire world of ideas–science fiction, fantasy, horror, poetry, photography, film and more await, all to be dreamed up from an exhibition on food.