The Alimentarium embraces a new concept
Founded in 1985, the Museum is reinventing itself yet again and now offers information and activities both in the Museum itself as well as worldwide over the internet.
The Alimentarium invites visitors to explore all aspects of food and nutrition through its fully redesigned museum, state-of-the-art exhibition areas, workshops run by professional chefs and educational activities for children and teenagers. Established in 1985 to explore the vast field of human nutrition across the world and through the ages, the Museum has constantly renewed itself ever since to remain a pioneer of communicating content. Today, it is offering its activities and expertise both on its actual premises and via an online web portal – the Alimentarium to take away!
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.”
The Alimentarium offers activities and workshops for all ages. Is there any particular activity which is a real ‘must’?
“None of the activities should be missed! Our master chef Philippe Ligron and his team have selected some special topics. The workshop on unusual food is of particular interest to children, as the unknown often causes problems. We also offer workshops which link cookery courses to the garden – from the vegetable plot straight to the plate. You can only experience that at the Alimentarium, where the kitchen has its very own vegetable and herb garden.”
The Alimentarium has a summer refreshments bar, a lounge area and an educational garden. Does it aim to be a place for relaxation and well-being, too?
“Yes, of course it does. We hope that visitors will absorb the information and know more afterwards than they did before. But first and foremost, we want visitors to feel good and feel inspired. Perhaps a gourmet might pay us a visit simply to enjoy the exceptional food in our restaurant or savour the views of the lake and mountains. But the food, the garden and the pleasant atmosphere will also make him more aware of complex questions and answers concerning food and nutrition.”
The giant Fork created for the Alimentarium’s 10th anniversary emerges from the lake outside your establishment in Vevey. What does it conjure up for you?
“The Fork is a real landmark not only for the region and for Vevey but first and foremost for the Alimentarium. The Fork was not the first tool people used to eat, but it reflects the development of table manners. For me, it represents an exclamation mark in front of the Alimentarium. It indicates that this is a special place associated with food and nutrition.”
In your opinion, what are the major food challenges of the next ten years?
“The big challenge will be to feed everyone on earth adequately, as was the core topic of last year’s Milan Expo. Food resources are still unevenly distributed and many people have no access to food or water. On the other hand, we see unequal and over abundant food leading to consequences such as illness and death in many countries. We need to address this dual challenge, this paradox, through information.”
Part of the Society sector touches on childhood memories related to food. Which dish triggers special memories for you?
“One particular memory is closely linked with my mother’s cooking. She cooked for her large family every day and a good meal would balance out any stress or quarrels with classmates or siblings etc. Calm reigned again after dinner. The proverb holds true: ”When the stomach is full, the heart is glad.”