food, history and creating

On Tuesday, I met up with the ladies of Pineapple DC, a very cool - and may I say, well-dressed - group of young women in D.C. who work in food and are all so passionate about what they do that they come together to create an inspiring, deeply creative society of peers who are all interesting in learning, creative and advocacy opportunities as it relates back to food.

We headed to the Smithsonian Museum of American History for a tour of the History of Food (sensing a theme?) exhibit, and a panel discussion with some of the women who make up its curation and research team. For a nerd such as myself who loves food, history and learning, it was an evening well-spent.

Appropriately, up first was a peek into Julia Child's kitchen.

Some children wanted to be ballerinas when they were small; I wanted to be Julia Child. She's my favorite TV chef, though she's long done cooking on TV. Everything she creates, from recipes to stories to broadcast, always seems warm, accessible and filled with love - which, to me, is the best essense of what food should be.

The Smithsonian acquired Julia's famed kitchen from her Cambridge, Mass., home and brought it to the exhibition hall in D.C. - down to the last magnet. As we peered into the tiny room, lined with copper cookware and crammed with every tool you could imagine, it felt like I was peeking into Wonderland. It's fitting, that Julia's kitchen is the entry into the History of Food in America show - because it is Julia who, for the first time, showed many Americans that it was possible for them to take enjoyment in adventures in the kitchen.

What's most intriguing about the History of Food in America exhibit is its complexity : if you think about it, food informs and is, in turn, influenced by everything in our society. Culture, climate, technologies, innovations, ads, family and home life - as one of the curators told us, "You can talk about anything through food."

Trying to do this exhaustingly complex subject justice, the team at the Smithsonian worked to make the exhibit an inclusive one. It's breathtaking to see major events in American history mirrored alongside the events in the food world at that time. One example? In the 1950s, food technologies used in the war to aid the troops came home, giving rise to quick manufacturing and easier home meals.

 

'60s ad campaigns that promised to "free the housewife" provide a knowing peek into the freewheeling spirit of the '70s that lay on the horizon. And a wall of disposable lids for coffee cups seems like trash at first glance... until you consider that each lid, each tiny difference in structure, represent a different innovation, and a different meaning to what it meant to consume food and beverage away from the home.

There is so, so much to see in this exhibit. You can delve into the counterculture birthed by our food revolutions. And you can see how food was a tie back to native traditions and homes for many communities during our country's growth, including a Mexican family's tortilla press from the early 1900s - which I immediately wished I could try out. (I bet that thing makes some amazing tortillas.) And did I mention there's an entire part that we didn't get to that's devoted to American vineyards and breweries?

Instead, we poked our heads into the Smithsonian's Culture Performance Plaza and its year-old demonstration kitchen. Capable of producing full cooking demos, the kitchen - equipped with all of the beautiful cooking accessories you could imagine, a gas stove, and a powerful vented hood - made me want to start mixing up a meal, right then and there. (Bonus - did you know the American History Museum is the only museum with this level of a kitchen setup?!).

 

Truly, the most inspiring part of the evening was the panel discussion, where I was captured by hearing the curators of the exhibit discuss their path to the Smithsonian and the fruits of their labor. They all have what seems like a dream job (researching and discussing food and history all day!), but they all also emphasized the untraditional paths and hard work it took to get there.

One recounted a piece of advice from a theater professor on finding your way in the world - no matter what you do, you must love the process. Or, as the professor elegantly put it, "you must love being in the shit."

Isn't that the best advice for creating you've ever heard?