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Burke Museum: We are not only what we eat, but how we make it, too

Focusing on how the disparities between rich and poor and environmental practices have changed diets around the world – and how they played out here in the Northwest among the Coast Salish tribes – The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture created an exhibit curators hope will lead to more conversations about the ethics, culture and practices of food production around the globe.

“Hungry Planet: What the World Eats” is a traveling exhibit that illustrates the connection food has with culture, the earth, people and tradition using photographs of families from ten different countries around the world and their ties to food.

The Salish connection

Through an artistic portrayal of a family’s relation to their food, artists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio hope to provoke audiences to think about their own consumption and over-consumption as well as sustainable and unsustainable farming.

The Burke’s complimentary exhibit “Salish Bounty: Traditional Native American Foods of Puget Sound” illustrates nearly 5,000 years of tribal diets in the Puget Sound via archeological and historical research.

“The Coast Salish for thousands and thousands of years truly ate locally,” exhibit co-curator Dr. Peter Lape said. “They ate with the seasons and what was available from wild plants and animals.”

Coast Salish tribes have been able to co-exist with the natural selection of food around them – utilizing over 280 plant and animal species – while causing very little environmental harm, all the while creating diverse and decedent cuisines.

 “The fundamental core of Coast Salish food is the intention behind it,” Lape said. “The human intention and culture that lives behind the food is the soul part of soul food that makes up this exquisite cuisine.”

Over the past 150 years many cultural shifts have affected the Coast Salish, brought on in part by the loss of access to land and water.

“Unpolluted clam beds have been replaced with mall parking lots,” says Lape. “Lands and waters produce food and when you mess with them, you lose access to that cuisine, you also lose access to cultural aspects.”

Upcoming PLU symposium on food

On Feb. 21, Pacific Lutheran University’s philosophy department is holding a symposium on the topic of food. Panel discussions will present topics such as: The Chemistry of Farming, How to Know What Goes Into Your Food, Feeding the Public, Buying and Eating Locally, Food, Family and Ethics.

Later in the evening keynote speaker Dr. Paul B. Thompson of Michigan State University will be presenting What Makes Food Good: Three Problems in Food Ethics.

Thompson will present his three problems:

  • the ethics of global hunger,
  • the ethics of food consumption as it relates to personal and public health
  • the ethical underpinnings of the food movement and its attraction to local and ethically motivated supply chains.

These efforts and others are calling attention to the problems created by a lack of ethics in food consumption today.

Junior Communication major at Pacific Lutheran University.