Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Am I Thinking About Food?

All of a sudden, it seems, the museum world is thinking more about food.  I don't just mean thinking about what to serve in your cafe,  but about what food means,  if a museum can should have a farmers' market or a community garden,  how food connects to the "Let's Move"initiative, and much more.  It's been interesting to me as, at the same time, my own interest in food has grown as a result of the Pickle Project, an effort I co-founded with Sarah Crow to explore, understand and share the food traditions of the complicated place that is today's Ukraine.

So although I wish I could be at the Feeding the Spirit Symposium sponsored by AAM and other organizations, this week I'm headed back to Ukraine with Sarah,  Caleb Zigas of La Cocina in San Francisco and Rueben Nilsson of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota for a series of four community conversations, in four different Ukrainian cities, about food.

The juxtapositions between American food and Ukrainian food are sometimes startling.  Most Ukrainian villagers grow their own food;  but their city grandchildren rarely cook.   Ukraine has some of the most fertile soil in the world,  yet much farming is scarcely above a subsistence level.  The country's difficult history, with times of great hunger,  mean that Ukrainian cooks, growers and eaters are resourceful in ways most Americans have forgotten.

This summer I've spoken about the Pickle Project to a couple American audiences,  who are full of questions about food safety,  about sustainability, and about a country that most people only identify with in terms of Chernobyl or painted eggs. We have much to learn and share with each other.

This isn't a museum project, but we hope that a traveling exhibition emerges from our work.  We've been interested in how many colleagues have said, "You just started a project?!"  Perhaps that's what the museum field needs more of--projects that don't necessarily have a final product, but spring from a passionate interest in connecting.  But that's a subject for another post.

For now, however, thanks to support from the Trust for Mutual Understanding and our community partners in Ukraine, these conversations will be the next steps.  If you're in Kyiv, Donetsk, Odessa, or L'viv over the next couple weeks, we'd love to see you at a conversation--check out the Pickle Project blog for the dates and locations, or find us on Facebook--to keep up with the conversations from afar.


Stephanie said...

Have you noticed a big difference in taste between the two countries?
I also believe that you could do lots of public history events where there is no end goal. Sometimes you create something and don't know the outcome until years later.

Linda Norris said...

A difference between taste--we had quite an interesting discussion at one of the conversations about the idea of tasty--whether the whole concept is a luxury...but in general, Ukrainian food is not as spicy, but flavorful, if that makes sense. And, our outcomes still emerging for sure!