The transformation of the American table

Food exhibit at the Smithsonian

pimento "cheese"There is no doubt that the way Americans eat was utterly transformed in the last half of the 20th century. This transformation occurred, to a lesser but significant extent, in other postmodern industrial countries following World War II. The Smithsonian’s American History Museum in Washington, DC, explores this metamorphosis in its exhibit FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000. While the museum’s website is an excellent resource on its own, David Lebovitz does us a great job giving us a virtual tour of the exhibit on his blog, including photos of objects not shown on the museum’s site.

As David explains, the Smithsonian exhibit shows “the progression and evolution of the changes leading up to what shows up at the American table.” This includes the rise of processed and prepackaged foods during the 1950s, the growth of agribusiness, the mechanization of food processing and packaging (including a bit about how “baby” carrots came to be), the backlash to this industrialization by notable figures like Julia Child and Alice Waters, multicultural influences on the American diet, and the rise of celebrity chefs. David notes that at the exhibition, “you could watch not only old episodes of The French Chef with Julia Child, but other cooks and chefs in their youth, like Emeril Lagasse, whose New Orleans-based cooking reflects the melting pot of the American table.”

Alice WatersDavid’s excellent synopsis is the perfect launching pad to explore the Smithsonian’s website, where you could spend hours delving into this fascinating subject.

Photos courtesy David Lebovitz and the Smithsonian Museum

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  • boardingace  on  October 29, 2014

    We just visited this and I spent HOURS reading everything! Highly recommended for any cooks!

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