Smithsonian exhibit at BCHS: ‘Key Ingredients: America by Food’ in VC until March 11VALLEY CITY, N.D. — A new exhibit here aims to tell people that food has a history as unique as America itself.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — A new exhibit here aims to tell people that food has a history as unique as America itself.
“Key Ingredients: America by Food,” an exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Service at the Barnes County Historical Society, underlines five concepts about the history of food.
Including how and why people eat what they eat, from the field to the fork.
“The main point is America’s palate is extremely complex and eclectic,” said Wes Anderson, BCHS curator.
Anderson has been trying since 2009 to bring this exhibit here. Now that it’s up and running visitors can walk through various food phenomena.
Every region in the United States is well known for some kind of food staple. New England has clam chowder, the South along the Gulf Coast has jambalaya and states like Texas and Oklahoma are known for barbeque, Anderson said.
One reason these food staples are recognized in each region is because of the people who settled there and what was available for consumption.
“It’s an overview of how we eat in America and how we have eaten,” he said of the exhibit.
The exhibit starts circa 1900 horse-drawn combines and moves through substance agriculture and beyond.
Anderson said a family of 12 was expected to provide for themselves and make some money on 160 acres of land as substance farmers.
From there people can learn about general stores, which involved giving your grocery list to a man behind to counter to the first mass grocery chain, Piggly Wiggly.
People can then learn about the revolutions and setbacks that innovations like canned goods, meat processing plants and frozen foods brought to America.
Each state is also known for a particular product. There’s the Georgia peach, Wisconsin cheese, Mississippi mud pie and more.
One regional example of people showing their heritage through food is the Mitchell (S.D.) Corn Palace.
“What your family eats is different than ours, it depends on the ethnicity,” Anderson said.
One thing Americans have in common is the sharing of food, one day every year.
“The only holiday we have dedicated to food is Thanksgiving — that’s the whole past of it,” he said.
As a supplement to the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, the BCHS put together a more comprehensive exhibit about food specific to North Dakota.
“People say there’s nothing out here in North Dakota, but that’s not true,” Anderson said. “We are a garden.”
The importance of North Dakota’s agriculture and the historical role the state played during World War II is also displayed.
Back in the early days of WWII several able-bodied men were asked to stay behind and fulfill their role as a soldier without a uniform, he said.
“There were some people that had to stay behind to grow the food to feed the Army,” Anderson said.
Some people called them “cowards” for not fighting, but that wasn’t the case, he said. In fact, around harvest time the work was so hard outside people were brought in to harvest, including an entire tank brigade one year.
The North Dakota exhibit goes further back than that and looks at the early days of agriculture in North Dakota.
One part of the exhibit shows local menus from around the turn of the 18th century. It wasn’t unusual to walk into a Valley City restaurant and order turtle or fresh oysters.
“People were from elsewhere and they brought (on the railroad) with them their taste,” he said.
The exhibit delves into much more including some Valley City exhibits, including Pizza Corner and North Dakota Winter Show, which has its 75th anniversary this year.
The Barnes County Historical Society, 315 Central Ave. N., will have the traveling Smithsonian exhibit until March 11. There is no admission charge and the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays.
The exhibit is also open by appointment by calling 701-845-0966.
“We’re just excited to have it here and we hope more people would come,” Anderson said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org