Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Can a Museum Unite the Food Movement?

March 17, 2015
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Can a Museum Unite the Food Movement?
MOFAD founder Dave Arnold presents a demonstration of cutting edge food science at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., April 9, 2014.
The founders of The Museum of Food and Drink want to inspire a curiosity in kids and adults about what we eat.

With all the innovations on display at SXSW Interactive — from virtual reality to artificial intelligence — attendees probably didn’t expect to learn about the puffing gun, which actually made its public debut at the 1904 World’s Fair. But this tool, which gives Kix and Trix their crunch and enables cereal to float on top of milk, was a major focal focus of the panel “Making the Museum of Food and Drink.”

The museum’s first mobile exhibit — “BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Cereal” — illustrates the power of using food to learn about topics from health and the economy to culture and the environment.

“It’s its own spoonful of sugar,” Dave Arnold, founder of the museum (MOFAD), said of food. “There’s no medicine that needs to get shoved down.” Arnold was joined by program director and executive director of the museum Peter Kim and Emma Boast, who, as program director, coordinates the MOFAD Roundtable, a debate series that tackles topics such as genetically engineered food. The team hopes their museum, which aims to be a brick-and-mortar reality in New York City by 2019, will bridge the divide between food as entertainment and food as politics.

Arnold said his “aha moment” for MOFAD came during a visit to the Museum of Natural History. He was walking through a small exhibit about Vietnam that included a small café where they served what he called slipshod interpretations of Vietnamese dishes. “The first thing that hit me was I would learn a whole lot more about Vietnam if they took this food cart seriously as opposed to these photos they have on the wall,” he said.

Most museums start with either a lot of money or a large collection of things, and Arnold explained that he had neither. But he has built a small team, drawn the support of advisors like musician QuestLove and chef Mario Batali and has already launched projects to put the model of food as an interdisciplinary educational experience to the test.

The MOFAD teams shares a common set of values, like the belief that informed eaters are better eaters and that food is personal, participatory and yes, fun. But don’t expect to see words like “superfood” or “junk food” on any of the gallery walls. Boast and Kim added that the museum aims to make food a less polarized and more constructive part of the national conversation.

“We want at MOFAD to create this kind of space where you can actually just get straight up information in a really fun and accessible way that kids can grasp and that adults can enjoy,” Kim said.

Based on the session’s turnout and level of applause at its end, this is an idea that people are sinking their teeth into.
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