FOOD: Transforming the American Table

One of the sites I was most looking forward to while in Washington, D.C. over the Memorial Day weekend was the FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950–2000 exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

I had read about this exhibit from an ag blog (which I should have noted and cannot find now) and was really excited about how they would portray agriculture and it’s role in our history of food production.

While they did talk about agriculture (because we all know that’s where our food comes from, duh.), I was disappointed that the two largest parts of the exhibit were Julia Child’s kitchen, as well as a huge spread on the back wall for grape and wine production.

There was a section on countercultures – which explained that during the 1960s and 1970s, waves of cultural and political change swept through American society and food became a tool of resistance, consciousness-raising, and self-expression. Several of these same people started the activism against mass-produced food and promoted food co-ops, vegetarian and “natural food” restaurants, organic farms and communes that we still see in our society today. It made me think about the role of social media we have today and how people can express their same concerns about their food through their social networks vs. rallies.

Another section was on the “Good Food” movement – or the revitalization of an artisanal world of food largely abandoned in America. They turned to the fresh, local, and regional in the US to develop a new cuisine. Within the context of mass-produced, mass-marketed, "fast” and convenience food, the “good food” movement opened a national conversation about what and how Americans eat. Critics called it elitist, but its effects have been showing up throughout the food system, from production to consumption.


I was impressed with the displays and how they showed the movement to the “fast”, “convenient” and “processed” food movements that are so prevalent in our society today.

I was worried when I first read this heading on this part of the exhibit – “Is Bigger Better?”. They definitely skated over the controversial issues around food production, but they are right when they say in the last paragraph, “Because food is so essential, the conversations are ongoing.” Let’s just hope these conversations come from both sides of the plate.

The exhibit ended discussing seasonality and technology innovation with food and it’s importance. It was a good ending and I hope many of the consumers that go through this exhibit will understand the importance of technology and innovation that today’s family farmers and ranchers are exhibiting to produced food for a food insecure nation and world.

Maybe next time I can talk them into including more agricultural facts. 🙂

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