Monday, May 14, 2012

Meatless Monday: Big Food

“Big Food: Health, Culture, and the Evolution of Eating” is a HUGELY popular exhibit which opened in February at the Yale Peabody Museum. The Peabody has long been THE destination for lovers of dinosaurs and dioramas of wildlife. Big Food provides another reason to pay this gem of a New Haven  attraction a visit. According to the Yale Office of Public Affairs & Communications, the exhibition has attracted over 40,000 visitors since its opening, and in March Big Food set the record for the most monthly visitors to the Peabody in a decade. 

Big Food examines Americans’ complex relationship to food. Food is essential to life, but how we eat in America involves much more than meeting our nutritional needs. Big Food offers the visitor the opportunity to learn about the neuroscience of eating, the genetics of eating, culture and environmental influences on our food choices (including marketing), and what the impact of all these influences has been on our collective health.

Big Food opens with a bang! The entrance to the exhibit is a passageway between two walls of “food” which illustrate what (and how much) the typical American consumes in a year. Here is just a portion of what is on the list: 17 pounds of red meat, 607 pounds of dairy products (including 12 PINTS of yogurt and 5 GALLONS of ice cream), 79 pounds of added fats and oils, 149 pounds of fresh fruit, 29 pounds of French fries, 14 pounds of potato chips, 64 pounds of sugar, 66 pounds of corn sweetener, 45 GALLONS of soda, and 22 gallons of milk.

Kids will love the interactive exhibits with buttons to push and loud sound effects, including a game in which you try to guess the sodium, sugar and fat content of a familiar food before it is smashed, and another in which you try to strike a balance between calories in and calories out while walking on a tightrope over shark-infested water. I rode a stationery bike until I had burned enough calories to eat a small strawberry with no net gain [more work than I expected]. 

Kids will also be able to relate to  a number of visual displays. “Eew, that’s gross,” is likely to be heard near the plexiglass box containing a representation of 5 pounds of body fat. I saw some tweens  examining the box containing a series of sweet drinks juxtaposed with a series of stacked spoons which indicate the number of teaspoons of sugar in each drink. 

Grownups are more likely to focus on the wall showing the change in portion size of a number of common foods over the past couple of decades. [To test your knowledge on this subject, revisit this post from the past where I told you about the NIH’s Portion Distortion Quiz

The visuals conclude with “Expanding America 1985-2010,” a series of maps of the USA,  through which you watch the country succumb to the Obesity Epidemic state by state. In 1985, 8 states had adult obesity rates exceeding 10%. In 2010, all states exceeded 20%; 13 exceeded 30%. Today more than one of every 3 Americans is obese.

At the exhibit’s exit point, visitors are asked to vote for a healthy lifestyle change they will make in their lives. One of the choices is Meatless Monday!

Big Food continues at the Peabody through December 2012. For directions, hours, and cost of admission, visit the museum website.

Those of you who live too far away to make the trip to New Haven can experience some of the exhibit, including casting a vote and playing “Strike a Balance,” by going online

No excuses allowed. There are absolutely no valid reasons not to check out Big Food!

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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