Beurk! Yuck! Igitt! The food we love to hate
From Tuesday to Sunday
10:00 to 18:00
Adults CHF 13.00
Reduced rate CHF 11.00
Children 6-15 years CHF 4.00
Children 0-5 years, free of charge
9:00 - 11:30 / 13:30 - 17:00
Quai Perdonnet 25
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
In 1825, the gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” With Beurk! Yuck! Igitt! The food we love to hate, the Alimentarium takes the opposite approach to this now famous adage. Its new temporary exhibition, the first to be based on an emotion, explores food disgust by endeavouring to address the saying “Tell me what you don’t eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
In order to better explore our dislikes, which often reveal our very intimate bond with food, the Alimentarium opted for a participative approach, to enrich scientific discourse with a multitude of personal memories. In December 2019, it set up a specific platform, thefoodwelovetohate.org active until June 2020, inviting online visitors worldwide to share their thoughts on the food they find revolting. Their stories of all the ‘yucky’ things that marked their childhood served as the basis for the exhibition. Visitors to the Museum in Vevey can discover these contributions on an interactive map of disgust, in the heart of the East wing of the second floor dedicated to this temporary exhibition.
Visitors are invited to dive into the history of favourite food and pet hates via interactive exhibits and demonstrations that arouse all our senses, focusing on four main aspects of this topic: biology, ethics, aesthetics, and sustainable development.
A universal expression
Regardless of our cultural background, every human being expresses disgust with a similar typical scowl: We screw up our eyebrows and noses; our nostrils dilate; and our pupils contract as we stick out our tongues. However, the multitude of situations in which we feel revolted is a very clear indicator of human diversity, especially when it comes to food and eating habits. This defence mechanism, originally intended to ensure survival by preventing humans from ingesting toxic food, is part of our identity, forged by our education and the events we experience. It also explains why fear of the unknown may play a major role in food aversion.
How can we measure food disgust?
The exhibition highlights the Food Disgust Scale set up in 2018 by Dr Christina Hartmann and Prof. Dr Michael Siegrist, both researchers at the ETH Zurich university for science and technology. The aim of this scale is to evaluate the aversion certain kinds of food may evoke. Endorsed by five separate studies, this scale lists eight triggers, such as dirty cutlery in a restaurant, or a snail in your salad. all presented in the Alimentarium exhibition.
Do you know what you look like when you are revolted? Generally speaking, you never get to see how you express disgust, so the exhibition’s stinkbooth lets you find that out! It snaps the photo just as you are surprised by a disgusting odour and inevitably pull a face. You then get to take a fun souvenir home, to keep or share as you see fit!
A hair in your soup
This stage of the exhibition allows us to question the disgust that certain human organs, body parts and fluids arouse once they are out of the body. We may rave about beautiful hair but stop eating the minute we find a hair on our plate. Drinking a glass of your own saliva or urine is unlikely to cause any harm, yet it is still socially unacceptable. What if we overcame this fear of the human body? The trend of consuming your placenta after having given birth seems to be part of getting back to our roots, of using your body to detoxify your body.
It is common knowledge that we eat with our eyes first. Sometimes though, as the saying goes, we bite off more than we can chew. The way food looks plays a key role in whether we find it appealing or disgusting. We have mixed feelings about some colours and, while a smartly arranged plate looks tempting, one that is overflowing may have the opposite effect.
An old-fashioned looking aspic
The Museum opted to illustrate the visual aspect of disgust with a review of the evolution of illustrations in cookery books. These drawings and photographs provide a visual record of our preferences and habits. Recipes for tripe and calf’s eyes and have since been replaced by refined, elegant dishes that appear sleek and sophisticated. The photos of food in aspic, popular until the 1960s, have long since disappeared from our cookbooks. These mountains of meat, salad and vegetables encased in jelly were favoured during the Great Depression, as they made it possible to make a few scarcely nutritious leftovers look more plentiful and attractive, especially when served on a large silver platter. The emblematic piece, mounted in the rotunda at the entrance to the Museum, sets the scene for the temporary exhibition Beurk ! Yuck ! Igitt ! The food we love to hate.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Can the beauty of perishable food be recycled as a work of art once it’s past its ‘best before’ date? Exhibiting a none too tempting selection of old Bülach jars full of food will certainly make visitors stop in their tracks. Will they be able to recognise what’s inside, whether it is 90-year-old sauerkraut or sausages?
Our senses of sight, smell, taste and touch help us discern food, but our sense of hearing plays a role too. Some people suffer from a disorder called misophonia, but even without going that far, in this area, the sounds people make when chewing or eating with their mouths open are often enough to put others off their food. What about in other regions or countries though? Background noises of people eating nudge visitors to focus on table manners, which are distinctive cultural markers of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ upbringing.
Disgust leads to huge amounts of wasted food, as fruit that is considered too ugly or too ripe to be eaten, stale bread, and vegetable peelings are thrown away. How can we curb such food waste? How can we eat meat in an eco-responsible way, by eating absolutely every part of the animal, even the tongue, no matter how repulsive that seems?
We now realise the need to overcome the barriers of food disgust to change our eating habits, and there are many ideas as to how to go about this. Top chefs are already encouraging us to use carrot and turnip tops and offal in their recipes, and we are spurred to consider the nutritional qualities of insects as a substitute for meat, for example. Before we can overcome feelings of disgust and address some of the challenges ahead, we must first understand how this emotion works and.
Packaging of the future?
The Alimentarium chose to highlight the work of Cristina Carbajo, a New York based artist and designer, to put the issue of food waste into perspective. Cristina Carbajo presents an ecological alternative to plastics with her cellulose packaging made from recycled waste fruit and vegetables.
It presents various delicacies under bell jars for Museum visitors to try, such as insects, pungent Époisses cheese, and nattō, which is fermented soya beans with a smell and stickiness the Japanese either love or hate. On Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Disgusting Food Tasting Bar enables visitors to try these and other repulsive foodstuffs, while learning a little about their history and how they are prepared, to quash any fear of the unknown. What else can you try? Well, that’s a surprise, as the food on offer will vary with the seasons.
What if the food you find the most disgusting isn’t the food which smells the worst? Will you be able to define every odour?