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'Food Fight!' breaks out at MSU Museum

MSU Museum public program manager Abbie Stevens Serving Up Science host Sheril Kirshenbaum
Scott Pohl
MSU Museum public program manager Abbie Stevens and Serving Up Science host Sheril Kirshenbaum chat at the Food Fight exhibition.

The new exhibition is all about food, where it comes from and where it goes.

If you have an appetite for learning, an expansive new exhibition focused on food has opened at the Michigan State University Museum.

The phrase “food fight” might evoke images of a cafeteria melee, with a mess of splattered deserts and flying sandwiches. The MSU Museum’s public program manager, Abbie Stevens, says the idea behind the new "Food Fight!" exhibition is a bit more serious than that.

“Food is one of the things that is necessary for our survival,” Stevens explained. “And yet access to it can be so fraught, and there’s so many different variables that go into how and why you feed yourself: political variables, economic, even cultural, social. It’s a way that people come together. It can also be a thing to drive people apart.”

The exhibition holds a layer cake of meaning resulting in a mix of the informative and the just-for-fun. One exhibit examines Native American food traditions, using projections on a wall and a large statue of a turtle. Another includes a video game inspired by Super Mario Bros. that takes place in a corn field.

“We thought that the name 'Food Fight!' accurately captures the idea that there are many fights and disagreements and discrepancies at all levels when you’re talking about food,” Stevens continued. “From the personal to the international.”

Sheril Kirshenbaum, host of WKAR’s Serving Up Science, a series that explores the intersection of food, science, and climate change, has visited the museum for "Food Fight."

“I just think it’s such a great exhibit,” Kirshenbaum said. "It touches on themes related to food security, related to the future of food and technology, and just related to food and culture. I’m really excited to spend some more time here.”

At one stop, you can sort pieces of fruit in a way that makes it easy to see just how much gets thrown out. Kirshenbaum thinks this display emphasizes how people have become disconnected from our food system.

“We’re often not aware of just how much we waste, and in the U.S., we waste on average between a third and a half of the food that we produce," explained Kirshenbaum. "That’s not just wasted food at a time when we need to be thinking about conserving more and being more efficient; that’s also wasted water, wasted energy, and a lot of carbon emissions that we never needed to produce.”

To make "Food Fight!" a bit more fun, you can pick up an RFID card on your way in that will unlock a recipe related to each exhibit. A QR code on the recipe can be used to save it to your phone.

"People learn well when they’re having fun, and so finding ways for them to engage in the material in multiple ways on multiple levels really helps it to stick with them and to drive the message home," Stevens said. "Some things are serious because they are very serious, and other things, you can poke fun at them a little bit, and we hope that people enjoy all these different ways to engage with the material.”

To compliment the exhibition, more than 30 programs and events about food have been planned. A discussion on food deserts and public policy will be held at the museum on Thursday, Jan. 25, starting at 7 p.m.

"Food Fight!" runs through June at the MSU Museum.

The MSU Museum is a financial supporter of WKAR. To watch Serving Up Science, visit WKAR’s YouTube page, or use the PBS app to stream episodes.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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