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'Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture' Comes to Milwaukee Public Museum

Mar. 7, 2017
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In our age of modern conveniences, fresh, packaged and prepared food is available almost everywhere, making it all too easy to become disconnected from the journey food takes from field to fork. In an effort to celebrate and educate humans’ connection to food from ancient times to the present, as well as to examine food challenges of the future, the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) will host the American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) traveling exhibition “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture” from March 3 through July 9. 

“Our Global Kitchen” is one of the first MPM exhibits that involves partnering with local organizations to offer community-based programs and outreach, said MPM Marketing and Communications Director Jenni Tetzlaff. Participating community partners include more than 50 public, private, educational, government and nonprofit entities related to health, food and sustainability. MPM has also brought on a community curator for the exhibit, Martha Davis Kipcak, a local food activist and an artisan foods entrepreneur. 

The exhibit encompasses 9,000 square feet of a second-floor gallery and touches on every aspect of our enormous global food production system. “For most of us, we don’t give much thought to food until we’re hungry,” Davis Kipcak said. “So to see the comprehensive information that’s behind those meals that we eat every single day—the culture, the science, the transportation, the amount of people and land that has been committed to bring us our food—is pretty amazing.”

"Our Global Kitchen" Demonstration Kitchen Schedule:

March 3-16: Colorful Eating

Find out where fruits and vegetables get their colors.

March 17-30: Food Preservation

Learn how freezing, drying, curing and canning are used to preserve food.

March 31-April 13: Herbs & Spices

Learn about the flavor profiles of various seasonings and how they are used globally.

April 14-27: Breads & Grains


Learn about the variety of breads and grains around the world.

April 28-May 11: Chocolate

Learn about local and global cultural traditions involving chocolate.

May 12-25: Coffee & Tea

Learn about the rituals associated with drinking coffee or tea.

May 26-June 8: WI Spring Fruits & Vegetables


Learn about the seasonal availability of edible spring plants in Wisconsin.

June 9-22: Fermentation

Learn about fermentation and the historical, cultural and scientific reasons behind the process.

June 23-July 9: Dairy

Learn why Wisconsin is known as “America’s Dairyland.”

Vivid, detailed displays provide snapshots of growing practices and models of different and unusual types of food eaten around the world, such as cassavas and cube-shaped watermelons (the shape in which they’re commonly grown in Japan in order to maximize refrigerator space).

Dioramas add a family friendly feel, depicting farms in rural and urban landscapes throughout the world. Davis Kipcak notes that the urban farm aspects connect with Milwaukee’s own urban farm successes in recent years. A farming-of-the-future section highlights vertical farms and indoor growing methods, such as hydroponics. 

Some aspects of our food system, such as animal welfare, are so large and complex they could merit entire exhibitions on their own, yet AMNH managed to touch on the intense topic. Another impactful sculpture provides a visual representation of food waste.

The cooking section includes an interactive table with virtual elements for visitors to create a meal: a segment that MPM Vice President of Design Julian Jackson says is one of the highlights of the exhibition. “It’s a seamless interactive where you can assemble a meal yourself. The images and information are projected on a table, and it’s beautifully done,” he said. 

A demonstration kitchen will host hands-on events from March through June, as well as “Indulgences,” a program for adults on Friday, March 31 that focuses on the science behind food and drink cravings. Additional displays cover ways to cook and prepare food. 

Visitors can see a detailed depiction of an Aztec marketplace. A historical dining area shows what the tables of Jane Austen, Livia Drusilla and Kublai Kahn would have looked like. While some visitors might expect olives to have been part of Drusilla’s feast, some might not be aware that Austen ate ice cream.

“This is my favorite section because we’re connecting ourselves to these people all over the world and throughout history that thought about the way they put together meals, and the role of food in their lives, whether it was to celebrate, or simply for sustenance,” said Jackson.

The exhibit is bookended by videos exploring connectivity of the different disciplines within the food system and how we engage in this cycle every day. Food can be a rich experience once it is uncovered and explored, and MPM hopes visitors can become rooted in the information and then go out into the community and participate in local organizations that connect us through food. Tours, workshops and an off-site dinner series featuring local historian John Gurda and “Wisconsin Foodie” host Kyle Cherek are also planned.

Davis Kipcak said the exhibit is a behind-the-curtains look at something we do every day—eat. “My hope is that the exhibit elevates mindfulness about how you nourish yourself. If people walk out the door giving thought to what they’re eating, where they’re eating, how they’re eating and all that goes behind that, then I think we’re successful,” she said. 

For more information, admission prices and a schedule of events related to “Our Global Kitchen,” visit mpm.edu.

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