I eat, therefore I am
16 October 2019 - 31 August 2020
In the fall of 2019, we are opening a major exhibition on a hot topic: food. Je mange donc je suis will make you discover the biological, cultural and ecological aspects of our food.
The exhibition is travelling
The exhibition I eat, therefore I am is travelling in different countries. Discover where you can visit it and how you can host it on the I eat therefore I am - Travelling exhibition page.
How does the act of feeding oneself, vital and daily, at the same time shape our identities through cultural practices, rituals and prohibitions? What role has food played in our evolution? Are there any "gendered" foods? What are the environmental impacts of producing resources to feed the world today and tomorrow?
In keeping with the spirit of its previous exhibitions at the frontier between science and society, we analyse preconceived ideas and offer food for thought on how we produce and consume food.
The "home-made" exhibition I eat, therefore I am brings the general public an easy to understand overview of the research carried out by scientists from the National History Museum in areas as varied as the development of taste, table manners, gastro-diplomacy, agricultural models, culinary heritage, meat consumption, GMOs and the food eaten by our ancestors.
The exhibition combines underlying themes, debates and "surprise" topics with the abundant presentation of prestigious items, exhibits collected in the field and works by modern and contemporary artists including Pablo Picasso, Gilles Barbier, Pilar Albarracin and Liu Bolin.
In the exhibition's three rooms, you’ll discover contemporary food-related challenges in what can be an occasionally unusual setting: you can take a seat at the dining table in the Élysée, have a chat to a fictitious cow about different diets, watch an extract from l'Aile ou la cuisse…
As the "icing on the cake", the different cultural events linked to the exhibition include an opportunity to visit major banquets, with commentaries by chefs and researchers on topics such as "Prehistoric food" or "Healthy eating", as well as roundtable sessions with experts and narrated sensory-themed visits. All guaranteed to satisfy your appetite… for knowledge!
Scientific officer : Marie Merlin
Exhibition curator : Christophe Lavelle
Food and the body
Covering topics such as the development of taste, the link between food and evolution and masculine or feminine foods, discover food from the viewpoint of the human body.
Animal or foodstuff?
To be suitable for eating, an animal or plant must be "culturally edible". The way people see the world and nature, or the different ways of "ranking" living beings, all have an impact on our food-related habits. A society’s food habits are based on “meaning conveyance mechanisms”, which attach value to animal and plant species. These can then become foodstuffs. The decision whether or not to eat a species can be influenced by different things: food-related taboos may mean that an animal is considered unfit for consumption and the animal's status or existing culinary traditions may influence whether people are keen or unwilling to consume a given species.
Meat, a high-stakes food source
Meat is a foodstuff with a very special status, one which nourishes both our bodies and our imaginations. As a vital component of the food intake of many societies, while almost non-existent in others, its consumption is today the subject of increasingly passionate debate, in which the ethical, ecological and health-related consequences are questioned.
The exhibition examines the various challenges related to the consumption of meat: its role in our evolutionary process, its increasing ecological "weight", worldviews which favour or prohibit it and the various rituals surrounding the act of killing in order to eat.
Today, in the early 21st century, we are seeing the emergence of a new era in food. Changes in our lifestyles and the way we eat are coming under the spotlight, especially as they seem to pose an increasing risk to our health.
Having a better understanding of the past may be one of the key elements in meeting the challenges of tomorrow, inviting us to consider the links between our food-related habits and our nutritional needs. The Palaeolithic era accounts for 99.5% of the great human adventure. I eat, therefore I am looks back at this lengthy "food history", including its many innovations (tools, fire, etc.) and adaptations to different environments and foods, the consumption of which has partially helped shape our anatomy, our genetic heritage and our social habits.
Masculine or feminine food
Access to resources, the preparation of meals, foodstuffs which are allowed or off-limits... We find food-related inequality between men and women in all societies, which has an impact on the body and can be a source of suffering. A rather more heart-warming aspect is the relationship between sexuality and food, which is often expressed in a "spicy" manner, with culinary or taste-related metaphors used abundantly in the language of love and desire…
Including table manners, culinary practices, links with religion, politics or art, it's time to explore the social and cultural aspects of food!
The act of eating generates and influences representations from a magical past based on the principle of incorporation. This is a universal phenomenon: all human societies share the belief that by incorporating a particular foodstuff, it’s possible to assume certain characteristics of the creature or item being eaten.
These are expressed differently according to the foodstuff concerned and the rituals associated with it. By spiritually transforming a foodstuff or by being spiritually transformed by it, over and above its nutritional aspects, the food in question becomes the epicentre of human society's links to the divine, to our ancestors and to the afterlife.
When it comes to dining, our postures, eating utensils or the times and places of our meals differ from one country to another. Around the world, we find a multitude of different approaches to meals and countless preparation methods.
Including Japan, the United States, Algeria and Indonesia, we discover four "table manners" which have become part of the museum display.
For around a decade now, numerous countries have sought to have their culinary heritage recognised by UNESCO. This phenomenon bears witness to the strong link between culinary and national identity: cooking becomes another aspect which helps to support the construction of a people’s identity.
In 2010, traditional Mexican cooking – the result of a combination of Amerindian and Spanish cuisine - was recognised as part of the country's heritage. After being out of favour for a long time, Amerindian culture is today riding high: the recognition of Mexican cuisine as part of its national culture puts the spotlight on its pre-Hispanic roots and traditions, which still survive today.
Devoted to the social, political, religious or identity-related aspects of food, the central part of the exhibition ends with an aesthetic exploration of food, focusing on two complementary aspects: cooking as one of the fine arts and as an artistic subject.
From a historical viewpoint, the monumental works by Antonin Carême mark the start of "culinary art", which is today continued through the dishes - and the research - of numerous chefs. At the same time, cooking, food or foodstuffs are subjects encountered throughout the history of art in a variety of forms (painting, sculpture, photography, video art and displays, etc.) and themes, including of course the ubiquitous and often revisited "still life".
How can we preserve the quantity, quality and variety of the food on our plates? The last part of the exhibition encourages us to give thought to our food’s impact on the environment and the ethical and nutritional aspects of producing and consuming resources in a globalised world.
The nourishing earth
We eat what we find and/or produce: food is a key aspect of the relationship between humans and their natural environment. Take a "world tour" of the different production methods used today, discovering the disparity of the ecological and nutritional impacts of our food-related practices on a global scale:
- Hunting, fishing and gathering among the Inuit and the Pygmy peoples
- Extensive livestock farming among the Kyrgyz nomads in Afghanistan’s Pamir region and the cowboys in the Australian outback
- Horticulture along the Rio Negro in Brazil's Amazonian region and among the market gardeners of the Drôme
- Fruit growing in Greece and Burkina Faso
- The intensive farming of wheat in Beauce in France and palm oil in Indonesia
Learning more about your food
Today, there is a growing demand for changes in our production methods, whether driven by a desire to have access to healthier food, to respect our planet, to take account of the exhaustion of natural resources or to face rising population levels. These complex issues are examined in a fun and off-beat manner in the last part of the visit.
After comparing yourself to a giant shopping trolley (created by Lilian Bourgeat) which symbolises the increasing concern shown by individuals who have become "consumactivists" in a globalised world, end your visit with a stroll through an exhibition area containing five major display areas, each of which represents items found on the supermarket shelves.
Including beef, chicken, salmon, wheat, tomatoes, lettuce, wine, cheese, dairy products, water, corn, soy, insects or even artificial meat, each of the proposed "food products" examines an aspect related to the current and future energy, environmental and health challenges of food.
What kind of meat intake do we need? Take advantage of valuable nutritional advice from Dr Moo, a fictional character thanks to a highly original phone-in service. At a time when the number of new diets (flexitarian, vegetarian, pescatarian) is matched only by the number of new cookery books on the bookshop shelves, it's time for a brief reminder of the new diversity available to us.