“Big Food” at the Yale Peabody Museum


“Big Food” is an exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven about the complexity of American eating habits. It looks at how a person’s environment can affect his or her food choices, explaining things like food deserts, food swamps, and portion sizes. 

The most amazing thing about Big Food, I think, is that it exists. Who ever would have thought that a museum would market an exhibit on the evolution of food? It shows how much more important food choice has become to people, and how much people are willing to think about it. 

The exhibit’s target audience is families and kids.  I appreciate the notion of getting younger kids to think about which snacks are healthy and where their food is coming from. The chosen wording was perfect – understandable and relatable. On industrial farming, it read, “Did you know that it takes more than 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef? Or, put another way, the wheat used to produce one large hamburger can make five loaves of bread.”

The exhibit shows the shift from living in rural to urban areas, and how this change has affected eating habits. It reads, “Rates of obesity are far higher among city-dwellers, particularly in developing countries, as people shift from producing their own food to purchasing processed foods.” The exhibit also introduces the terms “food desert” – places where at least 20% of people live at or below the poverty line and without a supermarket within a one-mile radius, and “food swamp” – neighborhoods filled with fast food restaurants and stores that sell unhealthy foods. The exhibit expertly delivers hard-hitting facts, including, “There are now five fast food restaurants for every one supermarket in the United States.” 

Under the heading “Community Collaboration,” there are explanations of what we can do to improve our eating habits. Guess what? Buying local is featured! There is a chart showing foods grown in Connecticut on a month-by-month basis.

If the best part of the Big Food exhibit is that it exists, then the second-best part of is that it hosts events. Tonight there was a (sold out) event that featured Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia, Jason Sobocinski of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and Tagen Engel, Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council. They were answering questions and giving samples! Big Food is running until December 2, and there are tons of more events to come. To see a listing, click here.

In the back corner of the exhibit, there is a darkly lit wall that reads a quote from Alice Waters. “If we are what we eat, then Americans are cheap, fast and easy.” The display of the quote gives an ominous tone, different than the rest of the exhibit. The contrast, I think, works beautifully, providing a sense of urgency to take the knowledge the exhibit has to offer and use it to make a change.



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