The Museum of Food and Drink doesn’t follow the traditional subject matter for museums, nor does it adhere to many other museum mores: it’s not quiet, well-funded or even located in a building (yet).
Instead, the nonprofit funded it first exhibition — a 3,200-pound replica of an early 20th century cereal puff gun — through Kickstarter. The exhibition, rightly titled Boom!, sent explosions off in Foley Square in Manhattan recently, as staff loaded up the puff gun with an assortment of grain, and then exploded it into puffed versions of sorghum, corn, wheat and more for park-goers to sample.
The exhibition is multifaceted: On the surface it demonstrates the cumbersome technology that helped turn America’s grain production into cereal—technology that has since been replaced to make cereal at an even larger scale. In doing so, Boom! showcases how museums can be performative, not just informative, with each explosion acting as show for a crowd already entertained by the samples, which volunteers passed out and explained.
The exhibition also explains, through colorful image-heavy and joyfully captioned posters, the history and science behind the machine: when it was invented, how many PSI the machine needs to explode the grain, the necessary amount of moisture it takes for a good puff.
On another, arguably more interesting level, Boom! delves into marketing and how simple grains became an industry of Big Breakfast through marketing and design. It discusses how Kellog marketed its plainer cereals as a way to live a healthy lifestyle and how, later, cartoon animals and TV commercials brought very sweet cereal into the diets of children. It takes a holistic approach to food production, and how what we eat relates to all other facets of life, from commerce to culture to the environment.
It will take years for MOFAD to raise the billions of dollars required to establish a permanent museum location. In the meantime, it plans to hold exhibitions similar to Boom!.
The exhibition itself will travel to schools to explain to children not only the origin and creation of their breakfast, but also to teach them how they have been marketed to: a useful and unlikely thing to learn from a museum.
Photography by Rani Molla.
Rani Molla has a digital media master’s degree from Columbia Journalism School and is the editorial producer at GigaOM. She’s a journalism reader, writer, photographer, videographer, data visualizer and general doer. Follow her on Twitter.