Food – Vice or Virtue?
Annual theme 2017
Organic food, GMOs, sugar, additives and ‘superfood’ fuel current debate. With the virtues we attribute to some foodstuffs and the vices we blame on others, it has become difficult to decipher the plethora of information available and understand how to eat without endangering our well-being or that of our planet.
The Alimentarium explores the notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’, when applied to food and how it is produced. From the magical qualities attributed to certain nutrients, to the economic constraints of organic farming, and to food safety and nutritional concerns, this theme carries through the Food, Society and Body sectors of the permanent exhibition. Fact sheets and magazine articles available online on the Museum’s digital platform develop the topic further. Not forgetting, the Alimentarium workshops, which add their touch of spice!
The theme will evolve with the addition of new content throughout the year, to provide a lively, progressive journey between popular notions and current scientific discourse.
The Food Sector
The Food sector addresses the question of ‘natural versus artificial’ from three perspectives: the composition of food in terms of its molecules; production methods, ranging from 20th-century intensive farming to permaculture; and, finally, an overview of the methods used to process and preserve food to extend its shelf life. To illustrate alternative cultivation techniques, a ‘plant kebab’ is on display at the entrance to the Museum. It shows how varieties of strawberry, lettuce or goji berry are able to grow in ‘aeroculture’, without soil or any connection to the ground.
The Society Sector
Why do we drape certain foodstuffs in vice or virtue? The Society sector addresses various topics: food aversion, the phobia of eating animal flesh or new plants, and the benefits of ‘miracle drinks’ such as tea and coffee. Eating is one of the most intimate acts we perform: When we eat, we make food our own. It goes on to become part of our own body. On a symbolic level, the qualities attributed to a foodstuff are said to become those of the person eating it. Today’s consumers feel they have lost control of what they eat. This is perhaps one of the reasons why they are drawn towards natural foodstuffs that inspire more confidence.
The Body Sector
The diversity of food we eat and the way it is prepared provide the nutrients that are essential for maintaining our body and enabling it to function. Eating is a social act, dependent on our cultural and ritual heritage, during which our five senses are aroused. The brain then creates its own fictitious image of the world around us from this stream of sensorial information. This subjective image is not necessarily an exact replica of reality, as various optical illusions and olfactory intuition remind us. Can this perception, however misleading, influence our food choices? After arousing all our senses, the food we eat is broken down in the digestive tube.
It is now possible to measure and track data ourselves, at any time of day: physical activity, rest, weight, body fat, blood pressure, calories consumed, blood sugar levels... Does having this information at hand really help us make the right choices?