SHERIDAN — In less than a week, Americans will consume more than 45 million turkeys — one sixth of all turkeys sold in the U.S. each year — as part of Thanksgiving feasts around the nation. Those turkeys will be accompanied by mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie and myriad other dishes as people celebrate a day that has become as much about food as it is about giving thanks.
In short, Americans love food.
It is a key ingredient in daily life, representing the country’s “melting pot” of cultures and shaping the identities of Americans more than they realize. That concept is the driving force behind a new exhibit at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library. Titled “Key Ingredients: America by Food,” the exhibit is part of the Smithsonian Institute’s “Museum on Main Street” program that produces small exhibits designed to fit into rural communities.
“They’re designed specifically to allow small museums, libraries and local facilities to have an exhibit. They bring the exhibit in, which tells the larger, national story of a particular theme, and then the local people provide additional programming and a local exhibit to go with it,” Program Coordinator for the Wyoming Humanities Council Sheila Bricher-Wade said.
“Key Ingredients: America by Food” has been traveling around the nation for five years, Bricher-Wade said. Sheridan is its final stop in the Lower 48 States before it heads to Alaska. The exhibit has made eight stops in Wyoming: Green River, Jackson, Cheyenne, Gillette, Rawlins, Douglas, Powell and Sheridan.
“It looks at American food traditions and cultural traditions around food,” Bricher-Wade said. “It’s a larger American perspective on food and culture, which hopefully incites people to think more about the impact of that in their own local community.”
According to United States Department of Agriculture statistics, from 2006-2008, Americans 15 years old and older spent approximately 2.5 hours per day in eating or drinking activities (shopping, food preparation, drinking while working or watching T.V., eating meals, etc.). Eleven percent of the population spent 4.5 hours per day eating and drinking.
The exhibit looks at a variety of aspects of food in America: growing and gathering food, food technologies such as canning and freezing, utensils used in food preparation, the ways America has assimilated food from other cultures, diners, barbecues, holidays and how foods are often linked to the imagery of a place.
For instance, Idaho equals potatoes, sourdough bread is synonymous with San Francisco, deep dish pizza is Chicago and Vermont means maple syrup.
A key part of the exhibit focuses on how American mobility may be the most important ingredient in the making of American food.
“Americans are really good at fast food. We kind of invented it, at least the roadside kind,” Bricher-Wade said.
Bricher-Wade said bringing in a Smithsonian-sponsored exhibit is important for people in Wyoming.
“The Smithsonian has a name we all recognize, but how many in Wyoming have actually had the privilege of going to a Smithsonian museum? The Smithsonian is our museum. It belongs to all of us in America,” Bricher-Wade said.
“Key Ingredients: America by Food” will be on display at Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library through mid-January.
Several events will be held in conjunction with the exhibit. These include:
• Monday, 7 p.m.: Food and Foodways of Wyoming featuring a presentation by David Romtvedt, who has designed and taught a number of university-level food courses, as well as authored books on food and food culture.
• Dec. 12, 11:15 a.m.: Edible Book Contest, with music by the Sheridan High School Spectrum Show Choir.
• Dec. 12, 7 p.m.: Foodways of Sheridan panel discussion.