Although food is a basic human need, meals are often meant to bring people together – a primary theme in “Key Ingredients: America by Food.” Exhibits themselves aren’t that different. Meant to educate, exhibits nourish the mind, but they also hope to teach understanding and bring people together. And in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, “Key Ingredients” has done just that.
From the beginning, local development and support has been beyond measure. A Museum on Main Street exhibit usually tours several cities in a state. But once the Smithsonian delivers the exhibit to the first host site, packed in twenty-some crates, it’s up to the venues to transport the display from city to city. Tunneling through a record-setting snow storm, “Key Ingredients” arrived in Rhinelander on December 6th in none other than a potato-hauling truck, courtesy of Sowinski Family Trucking. With the craftsmanship of local tech school industrial arts students who fabricated panels and a crop of Rhinelander High School National Honor Society volunteers who assembled the free-standing walls, “Key Ingredients” soon sprung up in Trig’s Riverwalk Centre.
Despite the unplowed roads and a shin-deep snowfall, dozens of visitors attended the exhibit opening, to a dedication from the mayor, plates of cheese, and accompaniment of an accordionist who rushed straight from his public radio polka program. Since, the exhibit has been heavily trafficked, and “everyone has been able to find something to identify with,” says Erica Brewster, UW-Extension Family Living Agent.
A Wisconsinite favorite is the yellow, foamy cheesehead that vistors can try on – an abundant accessory in America’s Dairyland state, but a delicacy in any other. And in the section about canning food and microwave dinners, many youngsters whip out their SmartPhones to research further, wondering what “canning” entails and imagining an era when that reheating kitchen wonder was the new technology.
Rhinelander developed their own partner exhibit, “Northwoods by Food,” which showcased the state’s national rankings: No. 1 for cranberries, No. 3 for potatoes, and of course, No. 1 for dairy. Yet in a country considered a “Land of Plenty,” the people of Rhinelander wanted to address that not everyone is fortunate to fall asleep with a full belly. Hauling in the shelving, desks, and paperwork from a local food pantry, a makeshift room and stacks of canned goods stand in stark contrast following a section of the exhibit about the growth of agribusiness. Visitors to the exhibit are asked to donate a nonperishable food item.
And where, exactly, is this exhibit? Outside a grocery store! The shopping centre comprises eleven stores, and a 24-hour grocery store anchors one end. The crates rolled off the potato truck, through the produce isle, and to its display area. The exhibit now fully installed, grocery store shoppers can pick up their carton of eggs and loaf of bread, proceed to checkout, and then wheel their cart through the exhibit.
-- Alexandra Charleston, Museum on Main Street, Washington, DC