Two new food museums encourage "thoughtful participation in the food system"by Alice Lascelles / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Food can feed the brain as well as the belly. It can be a cultural signifier, a political tool and route to scientific revelation. Yet we’ve become, by all accounts, a nation of unthinking, insipid “foodies”, where cookbooks top bestseller lists, baking shows pack out primetime TV schedules, and restaurant launches gobble up column inches, cramming Instagram’s maw with endless, oozing burger-porn.
Two new food museums—one on either side of the Atlantic—are aiming to temper all this snortling greed. Food museums are not new: there’s a prune museum in France, a kimchee one in Korea, and at least half a dozen dedicated to the potato. But until now there hasn’t been an institution dedicated permanently to the exploration of ideas around food.
A youthful pair of gastro-wizards known as Bompas & Parr, have attempted to fill this gap in the market. They are best-known for staging headline-grabbing spectaculars, and creating curios such as breathable G&Ts, lava-powered barbecues and bowls-full of punch big enough to row a boat on. And last year, in a former banana-ripening house in Borough Market, they set up the British Museum of Food. The museum involves next to no eating. Instead the building is given over to a series of installations relating to the science, politics and production of food.
The first of the four rooms houses a giant video screen depicting a journey through the human gut, which visitors watch while being subjected to the “peristalsis” of ruthless massage chairs. Elsewhere, one can explore the impact of sound on flavour perception by tasting four, identical, chocolate drops to different soundtracks, and wander through a lush hothouse full of butterflies while learning about the role of endangered pollinators in the food chain.
In the fourth and final room, a small archive of menus brought things to a thought-provoking close by juxtaposing the extravagant—the last menu to be served on Concorde—and mundane—a week’s menu in a prison canteen—with the heartrending—a hand-drawn Christmas day menu from a Second World War POW camp. Displayed alongside each other in a series of plain glass cases, these menus served as a powerful reminder that…