I’ve done the math (I haven’t) and I’m going to need about $50 million to start a food history museum. Maybe $80 million. I’m not sure how much these things cost. I imagine that food museum-ing is a tricky and expensive business, but I don’t know for sure because except for museums dedicated to specific foods, like the mustard museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, or specific food cultures, like The Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, I don’t think that interactive food history museums are actually a thing. (For the record, NYC does have a food museum.)
Food is my soulmate. I think about food a lot. I’m thinking about food now. For instance, some recent food thoughts have included:
Would Queen Elizabeth I like pizza?* or
I bet Ben Franklin would be all over tacos,** and
What kind of food did they eat in Constantinople during the Dark Ages?***
Thoughts like that. But, seriously, what kind of food did they eat in Constantinople during the Dark Ages? What kind of food did people eat in Berlin during the Renaissance? What does a meal prepared from a 16th century English cookbook taste like? As nasty and as boiled and as clove-ridden as I suspect it is? Probably, but I’d like to taste it with my own mouth.
We live in a society with enough means that there are museums for just about everything. There’s a sex museum in New York City and a ventriloquist dummy museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky (hopefully those museums will never collaborate on an exhibit).
I have trouble figuring out why there isn’t already a large-scale food history museum already in existence. There are plenty of museums dedicated to art, the art of war, the art of music, etc., but there isn’t really one dedicated to the art and history of food in any broad, comprehensive way.
Perhaps the reason is obvious: such an endeavor would not only be incredibly expensive, it would also be impossible to be comprehensive, what with so many culinary traditions hiding in every crevice of the world.
Still, I imagine a museum where you not only learn about the history of culinary traditions of various cultures and societies over time, but also where the patron can learn about the ingredients that went into that food, how and why that food was made, the tools used to make it, and, perhaps most importantly, what the finished product tastes like when made in as authentic away as possible. I want to see museum employees dressed in the appropriate period garb, making the food with the appropriate period-accurate utensils and tools, health codes be damned. I want patrons to enter hungry and leave full (both of knowledge and food). Tickets would be expensive, but I bet there’d be some serious bang for your buck. (Just think! Walk in not even knowing was suet is, and walk out not only having tasted it, but never wanting to ever again!)
Obviously it would be difficult to cover all food traditions ever created, which is why such a museum would have to have temporary, rotating exhibitions. Its weakness would be its strength: there would be a practically infinite topics and themes:
18th Century American Cuisine Before and After the Revolution
Jamaican Cuisine During the 1950s (or whenever)
Food Behind the Iron Curtain
The Culinary Tradition of Viking Raiders: Food & Plunder
Please, Sir, I Want Some More-occo!
Infinite Cress: Greens Grow in Brooklyn
Sore Throats and Mushy Oats: A Culinary History of the Black Death
Founding a food history museum may be a bit of a pipe dream for me, but consider the conversations it might start, how it would change the way people think about food, especially food that isn’t part of their everyday fare. Food brings people together. Everyone likes to eat. Every culture has some version of a sandwich. It’s what makes the world such an amazing place. In the end, we just want to sit down and eat and forget about our problems. What better way to grow that tradition by immerse oneself in food’s history as well as its flavors?
So, if anyone has $50 million just lying around…I have a business idea.
**Pun not realized until later, therefore unintended and not condoned. Don’t be gross.
***Maybe figs? Seems like they’d eat a lot of figs.