Smithsonian Exhibit Debuts at Pratt Museum

Marcia Lynn

     An exhibit created by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. made its Alaska debut at the Pratt Museum in Homer Friday night. The exhibit explores a topic of interest to just about everyone - food.  

     Are we what we eat? That question is posed in the introduction to “Key Ingredients: America by Food.” Answers are offered through a labyrinth of large panels with text and photos relating to food traditions across our nation. Scott Bartlett, curator for the Pratt, says the basic premise is an examination of the history and cultural impact of various food traditions, including fish fries, clambakes, potlucks, prayer breakfasts and of course, barbecues.

     In the barbecue section, we see an impressive color photo of chefs managing a huge grill flare-up at the 1984 Gilroy California Garlic Festival. Another section contains a large black and white photo from 1907 titled “Harvesting ice blocks in Connecticut.”

     "They really do an excellent job of representing as much as they can," says Bartlett. "It's the whole gamut."

Bartlett says interactive displays throughout the exhibit allow you to lift a flap and learn lots of little known facts. For instance, did you know Chinese fortune cookies are an American invention? That tidbit of information is found in the section titled “Eating Out – Birth of the American Restaurant,” right next to a menu from the Dragon City Restaurant in Washington, D.C.

     The "American Diner" section features color photos taken in the 1950’s of Rosie’s Diner and the first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Illinois where a 15 cent burger sign sits atop the Golden Arches.

     During the run of “Key Ingredients,” Bartlett says the Pratt will gather input from community members on local food production and storage methods.

     "And then we're gong to transition into a local exhibit," he says. The transition will take place in the middle of May.

     The Pratt is also putting on a series of related programs such as a "Community Conversation on Garden, Farm and Food Storage" on April 16th and a talk by Ember Jackinsky on May 1st titled "Sustainable Foods for Future Generations: Acclimated Heirloom Seed & Food Security."