If you go to the Bell Museum, don’t go hungry.
“Our Global Kitchen,” an exhibit on how food is grown and eaten throughout the world, starts with a single question: “What will you eat today?”
If you happen to press the button on some of the displays, the answer to that question will likely be chocolate, popcorn and garlic, the scents of which come out of a clear box in a poof.
Should you click on the tabletop video screen to get a bird’s-eye view of a dish being prepared, you may find yourself with a hankering for poached eggs with hollandaise.
And if you stroll past wall-mounted examples of square-grown watermelons, your mouth may water for them.
The exhibit, on loan through Jan. 6 from the American Museum of Natural History, takes visitors on a journey from seed to trade and oven to table. For the Bell Museum, which is part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, the exhibit launches conversations about some of the biggest questions surrounding food today — and researchers at the U are trying to answer many of these.
“Having an exhibit about food from farm to table was a really nice way for us to connect with university research,” said Holly Menninger, the museum’s director of public engagement and science learning. “And who doesn’t like talking about food? Everybody has a food story.”
Some of those questions have to do with food waste and the environment, animal welfare and urban development, and disparities over access to food in different regions across the globe.
A panel on Nov. 14 brings together university experts to discuss food safety, and one on Dec. 12 addresses diet. (The Bell Museum is at 2088 W. Larpenteur Av., Falcon Heights, 612-626-9660, bellmuseum.umn.edu.)
The exhibit begins with a focus on agriculture, with prop crops like Midwestern corn stalks and South American potatoes drawing people to placards on the many ways plants become food. Next, a life-size diorama of an Aztec marketplace shows the foods native to the Americas that would later become the foods of the world.
A section on cooking shows how star chefs, such as Chicago’s Grant Achatz, use technology to manipulate ingredients into unusual new forms. (Achatz, chef at Alinea, uses a blowtorch to burn oak leaves as an autumnal accompaniment to pheasant.)
The finale is devoted to how people eat — not just in different parts of the world but in different times in history. Visitors can literally sit at the table in Jane Austen’s dining room in 1810 and imagine indulging in a bowl of ice cream made painstakingly without electric refrigeration.
Jessica Hauser of Woodbury and her 9-year-old son Ethan pulled up a chair to Austen’s table during a visit to the exhibit.
“We love food at our house, so it’s nice to learn about where it comes from,” Jessica said.
“And how much is wasted,” Ethan added.
The boy was struck by a plexiglass tower filled with fruit and vegetables, loaves of bread, cans and cartons, all representing the more than 1,600 pounds of food that’s thrown out by a family of four in one year.
Vera Baron of Savage brought her 6-year-old daughter Klavdiya, and expected the exhibit to become a topic of conversation that night around the dinner table.
“This helps people talk about a lot of new things,” Baron said. “It’s nice to expose the younger children to learn about different kinds of foods and what people use in different countries.”
Still, for some visitors, there might be one big hurdle to make it all the way through the exhibit: hunger.
On a recent weekday, a mother and her two children walked up to the entrance of the exhibit, stopped short, and turned around.
“Oh,” the mom said. “This is not actually food.”