Friday, August 19, 2011

Local Travels: What's Cooking Uncle Sam? @ NARA

This week I was invited to the National Archives to go on a special tour of the exhibit, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.”  

It is a fantastic exhibit; I already want to go back.

This temporary exhibit follows the history of government intervention in the American food supply and diet from seed explorers to the demise of the Food Pyramid. 

Some of my favorite highlights:

The Meyer Lemon. Did you ever stop and think about why the Meyer Lemon is called the Meyer Lemon? After Frank Meyer, the seed explorer, of course. From the early beginnings of this country the government would send explorers around the world looking for seeds and plants to bring back and experiment in our soil and climate.  Fred Meyer, who transversed the world mostly on foot, brought back this lovely lemon from China in 1908.

Black Market Margarine.  Margarine was a cheap alternative to butter created in France in the 1870s. The butter/dairy industry in the US feeling threaten, pressured Congress to pass the Federal Margarine Act of 1886. This led to strict regulations on the packaging and selling of margarine, which led to higher prices which, obviously led to a black market . . . for margarine. People were actually arrested and sent to federal prisons for selling . . . margarine. 

Pete Seeger singing about the Great Depression. Enough said.

Pure Food.  We have all read The Jungle, we all have same idea how bad the factories were at the turn of the century, but not until you see notes by actual food adulteration investigators, do you realize how horrific it really was. 

Getting Your ABCs. Nutrition is a relative new science. For a long time, people thought that if you just got enough food, no matter what kind of food, then that was healthy. In a country that battles with over indulgence, it is hard to remember that there was time where malnutrition was a huge issue. 

 This exhibit does a fantastic job tracing the history of the idea eating a balanced diet of different kinds of foods, and these new things called vitamins.  Can believe that a donut company actually marketed their donuts as “Vitamin donuts,” for pep and vigor! (Why don’t we use the word “pep” anymore? We should, it is a great word. ). Actually with all the claims that companies make now, that probably isn’t that much of a surprise.

For the Troops. I learned lots of fun facts about food during wartime (even way back to the Revolutionary War): Condensed milk was introduced during the Civil War, and during World War I, the Food Administration under Herbert Hoover promoted the idea of “Meatless Mondays.” And you thought it was a new trend!

And last, but definitely not least,

Queen Elizabeth makes her own scones. She sent the recipe to President Eisenhower.

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