Director Ursula Zeller, head of this establishment since 2014, offers a glimpse of the new museum experience.
The Museum is undergoing its second major overhaul since 1985. What has prompted such transformation?
“Museums have to keep developing otherwise visitors lose interest. Permanent exhibitions should be re-formulated after a maximum of 10 years. The timing was right for the Alimentarium when the decision was made to transform the Museum from a local Vevey establishment into the Alimentarium, accessible over the web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We do not have the space to physically expand in Vevey, but we can erase borders virtually, via the internet. The idea is that, wherever you go and wherever you are, the Alimentarium is there with you. So the information we offer is accessible and captivating for people all over the world.”
Could you highlight the key features of the Alimentarium’s new permanent exhibition?
“The new permanent exhibition Food - The essence of life places the individual centre stage and thereby provides visitors with direct, personal access to the topic. No subject is as dear to humans as food – it affects every living creature in virtually every area of life, whether cultural, physiological, social, ecotrophological, financial or medical. The permanent exhibition answers key questions such as “What do I eat?”, “How do I eat?” and “Why do I eat?”. This automatically leads onto the question of food, society and bodily functions and their interdependence with nutrition.”
The Museum’s new positioning also focuses on nutrition. Could you tell us a little more about that?
“The core theme of the new Alimentarium is food and nutrition of the world’s population in both the past and the present. As part of the themes addressed, the Museum will focus on current issues and unanswered questions of the future. Predictions for the future cannot fail to address the constraints of future food supplies and their causal relationship with the environment. But, for the visitor, it is not just about eating and what is eaten but also about the ‘how’ and the consequences. The cultural history of food production, cooking and nutrition and the relevant objects handed down serve as reference points for our current and possible future understanding of the global theme of food. Visitors learn that the answers depend on time, location and culture. They learn to appreciate the processes involved in the production, transformation and marketing of food, as well as in its absorption by the body. They also learn that there are no universal truths when it comes to food. Every era, every culture and every country has its own priorities, dependent not only on the level of knowledge, but also on traditions, religious ideas and accessible resources.”
Education prominently features in the form of a diverse Academy programme available in the Museum and online with MOOCs for teachers and school-age children. Why are you expanding your activities in this direction?
“Children and young people are the Alimentarium’s primary target audience. Our programmes for schools are in high demand and are the Museum’s unique selling point, one we are very proud of. It therefore made sense to develop new programmes for this group. Many nutrition-related health issues (such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases) correlate with certain eating habits. If we want to positively influence eating behaviour, we need to start with children. This is the reason why we have invested intensively in our Academy programme for school children and, for the first time, included teachers and parents as well. Children cannot change their behaviour alone – it depends on their environment, their schools and the family circle. We want to provide easily accessible information to all of them. The ever-present fun factor should have a positive and motivational impact on practical implementation.”