- Food Culture USA, 39th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and: 39th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Food Culture USA; Forest Service, Culture and Community; Nuestra Musica: Music In Latino Culture; Oman: Desert, Oasis and Sea
Consuming the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is akin to wandering the line at an old Horn and Hardart Automat, where, rubbing elbows with all kinds of people, diners could choose from a broad assortment of common food favorites prepared well and made extraordinary because of the setting.
The National Mall and the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution are the settings that rarifies the Folklife Festival's content of common culture. The typical festival program explores the cultural lives of working-class people who usually do not have a direct voice on the national stage. Members of cultural communities representing a place, diaspora, occupation, or idea come to Washington as outstanding practitioners ready to share their diverse traditions with the nation. Typically, food is part of the presented heritage, with each program featuring foodways as part of its cultural whole. The 2005 Folklife Festival, for example, included such sessions as "All about Halwa" in the Oman program and "Dutch Oven Delights" in the Forest Service program.
A third program in the 2005 festival was Food Culture USA, which was devoted entirely to food. This thematic program was an interesting experiment, an attempt to meld the common with the avant-garde, akin to having four-star chefs prepare an Automat's entrees for two weeks. The result was sometimes satisfyingly rich and at other times lacking the pungent spice of tradition.
Food Culture USAwas organized around the idea that a food revolution has occurred in the United States over the last half-century. In her article in the program book, guest curator Joan Nathan, the award-winning cookbook author best known for her work on Jewish cooking, identifies three primary trends that began in the 1960s and that have shaped the current American food scene. (1) The Immigration Act of 1965 increased ethnic diversity in the United States, which resulted in expanded food options and interesting food fusions. (2) A sustainable agriculture movement grew in reaction to the increased commodification and corporatization of agriculture, emphasizing locally grown, seasonal, organic, and artisanal foods. (3) American ideas about food have changed, thanks to food education via celebrity chefs, community and classroom gardens, affinity groups like Slow Food, and direct relationships between consumers and producers. Food Culture USAexplored these components, identified national leaders in the food revolution, and continued the movement's food education efforts in the festival setting.
The layout of tents and displays for Food Culture USAfollowed the festival's standard arrangement with the accommodation of multiple cooking venues. On the Mall, "Garden Kitchen," a performance venue, and "Slow Roast," an area for grilling and barbecuing, bookended the demonstration displays of spices, coffee, milk, soy, and other "tools of the trade." An intimate narrative space, "Around the Table" was tucked among the displays. In the center section of the lawn were two more [End Page 245]stages ("Home Cooking" and "Melting Pot"), two eating venues, and the aesthetic highlight of the program—a raised-bed garden.
Every year, the Folklife Festival includes a particularly creative adaptation of a cultural landscape to the setting of the Mall. In Food Culture USAit was "The Edible Schoolyard." Modeled after its Berkeley, California, namesake and staffed by people involved with that initiative, this display was comprised of rows of thriving corn, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, and herbs growing in trucked-in soil, meeting the National Park Service's stricture of not breaking the Mall's surface. The simple beauty of this growing garden was a haven for the soul that provided solid proof of the potential of...