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Michigan Eats: Regional Culture Through Food

April 5 - November 15, 2009
Heritage Gallery

Earlier this year, "Michigan Foodways" traveled with the Smithsonian's "Key Ingredients: America by Food" to six sites in Michigan where they were seen by enthusiastic visitors from around the country. The Smithsonian's exhibition has left the state, and "Michigan Foodways" has returned to Michigan State University Museum for refurbishing and expansion before it once again tours the state. Part of this make over project will entail adding "Local Voices," a section about the foodways of the sites where the exhibit was hosted earlier from the perspective of those local communities (Chelsea, Calumet, Cheboygan, Whitehall, Frankenmuth, and Dundee). This transformed exhibit, renamed "Michigan Eats: Regional Culture through Food," will open at the Michigan State University Museum in April 2009 and begin touring elsewhere in the state in the fall.

Video vignette courtesy of the Michigan Humanities Council.

More about "Michigan Eats" and foodways
"According to popular wisdom, we are what we eat. What we eat says volumes about us - our backgrounds, our social, cultural, economic and religious status, our food preferences, in other words, who we are," says Yvonne Lockwood, curator of folklife.

"Foodways represents an entire complex of ideas, behaviors and beliefs centered on food production, preparation, presentation and consumption, and the role of culture in shaping and preserving it," she explains. "The biological necessity to eat is unquestionable; however, it is to culture, not biology, that we must look to explain why we eat what we eat."

"Asparagus! Stalking the American Life" excerpt, courtesy of filmmakers Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly. (Full-length documentary is featured downstairs in the Orientation Theatre, and is for sale in the Museum Store.)

In the exhibit, Lockwood examines the creation of early Michigan cookbooks and a variety of food-centered celebrations - from fish fries to cherry and berry festivals aplenty. The exhibit also draws on the MSU Museum's extensive history and cultural collections to help tell the story of Michigan's foodways, like cabbage slicers for sauerkraut, sap buckets for maple syrup, apple picking sacks, Native American wild rice winnowing baskets, and early Kellogg's cereal packaging.

From the southeast corner to the tip of the U.P., Lockwood has studied foodways for decades.
"Besides a lot of good eating, friendship building and recipe collecting, I have witnessed how foodways express significant cultural, social and historical information," she reflects.

Two generations making maple syrup in northern Michigan
Videographer: Scott Allman
Editor: Joahna Williams

"In one study, foodways in Metropolitan Detroit of the various ethnic communities from different Arab counties were used to measure the process of becoming "Arab American." Foodways, in other words, became an index of the different degrees and influences of the acculturation process."

"Pasty, in addition to being a tasty meat and potato turnover, reflects the immigrant and ethnic history of the Upper Peninsula. As it passed from Cornish to other communities, it concurrently evolved from a mono-ethnic specialty to a multi-ethnic food, all the while adapting to the nuances of other food cultures - ultimately becoming a symbol of the region and claimed by all residents."