‘Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love’ New York Botanical Garden’s Major Exhibition Through September 11, 2022
When we think back to our grandparents’ and parents’ cuisine, what comes to mind? Whatever generation we are, the foods we were served as children on holidays or perhaps daily indicate the family heritage. And once we discuss heritage foods, inevitably there are similarities and differences among cultures, though they might be as wide-ranging as Europe to India.
The New York Botanical Garden’s latest exhibition Around the Table” Stories of the Foods We Love, is all about our culture heritage and the heritage of others by examining the cuisine. And no matter how one views the cuisine, at its most basic foundation we find plants.
For those unfamiliar with farms and growing seasons, seeds and techniques to produce the most healthful, successful gardens of fresh fruits and vegetables, this exhibition is for you. Also, for those who come from a background whose cultural heritage was steeped in orchards and vegetable gardens as mine was, the exhibit is a chance to reconnect with and add to knowledge already in one’s mental and emotional bank account.
The plantings found throughout the 250 acres reveal the art and science of food traditions, many dating back to millennia and the beginning of the growth of civilizations throughout the world. Though the plants have been developed through experience by people culturally and historically, many of the plants from ancient cultures have also been modified scientifically to what they are today. Much of the history of cuisine relates to migration and travel. As people moved throughout the world, they brought their cultural understanding of plants with them to retain and perfect their food traditions.
Importantly, the NYBG exhibit acknowledges the cultural heritages of food cuisine and highlights the aspect of travel and migration that brought plant species to the Americas and species that were in the Americas to European in cross cultural migration.
Found in various plantings in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory which separate into three installations, we note the diverse and wide variety of living edible plants that are used in cuisines from Asia to South America, from Africa to Europe.
When one looks carefully, one finds the plants that are the basis of staples we cannot do without, like coffee, chocolate, sugar, flour and plants that nourish the animals that provide the meat we eat, for example the plants that produce the grains and corn fed to cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep.
The displays of edible plants include hundreds of varieties including peppers, squash, cabbage, beans, grains, corn, banana, sugarcane, taro, breadfruit, fruit (tomatoes) and more.
In the Conservatory’s Seasonal Exhibition Galleries is the assortment of edible herbaceous plants and fruit-bearing trees growing in containers, entwined in overhead trellises and creating green walls for compact urban spaces.
The Conservatory Courtyards present fig, citrus, olive and apple trees and reveal plants suited to tropical regions like rice, taro, mango, banana, manioc and breadfruit.
Look for the pearl millet, the nightshade section (tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs associated with them like basil). There is also a spirit garden indicating many of the plants used to create beer, wine, rum, liquors and the cork associated with the preservation of spirits and wines.
One of the more interesting installations is on The Conservatory Lawn. It has been transformed into a field of dwarf sorghum and barley. These traditional grains align with our climate and allow us to view the sowing, nurturing, harvesting and replanting over mini seasons. If you visit in early June and stop back at the end, you will be amazed at the growth of the height of the plants.
Interspersed among these plantings you will find picnic tables beautifully decorated by local artists that add a colorful effect amidst the field of green.
The Garden selected 30 artists living or working in the Bronx and they designed the tables that highlighted food themes from “Around the Table.”
These artistic works can be found outside and inside the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building as well as throughout the grounds.
If you examine the table tops you will note edible plants that embody their own cultural heritage and significance and inspire the sharing of personal stories of foods traditionally served at holidays and celebrations.
It is through foods, most especially we are more open to understanding cultures different from our own.
In another section of the extensive exhibition, make sure to visit the African American Garden at the Edible Academy. The installation is entitled African American Garden: Remembrance & Resilience. It is curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, America’s leading scholar on the foods of the African Diaspora.
When you move along the walkways to look at the beds planted, you will be fascinated to connect with the plants that highlight African American culture and foods, gardening histories and tidbits about early Americana. The African American Garden features the contribution of essential plants to our collective history.
Dr. Harris worked with historians, heritage seed collectors, and NYBG’s Edible Academy staff to lay out a sequence of eight garden beds arranged in a semi-circle. These represent a celebration of African American food, plantings, and ongoing contributions to our country’s plant and food culture.
The experience includes an orientation center, shaded seating and a Hibiscus Drink Station. Stop by the drink station to cool yourself off with a taste of Roselle, sweetened or unsweetened.
With it saunter along the Poetry Walk curated by Cave Canem Foundation.
The Cave Canem Foundation is the premier home for Black poetry that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.
Finally, visit the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building Art Gallery to see the works of contemporary Colombian-American artist Lina Puerta in her exhibit on the first floor. It is entitled Lina Puerta: Accumulated Wisdom.
The artist highlights and gives voice to the invisible farm workers who labor in the fields for low pay and long hours. Throughout the country they are the voiceless abused by corporate owners who have exploited their labor. Without their labor where would populations be? Read Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, an expose of agribusiness in Florida and how slave labor keeps the tasteless tomatoes coming to market.
Puerta’s mixed-media sculptures, installations, collages, handmade paper paintings, and wall hangings are strikingly beautiful. They speak of farm workers and reveal the relationship between nature, the human-made and ancestral knowledge related to plants.
The materials she uses range from textiles and handmade paper to found, personal, and recycled objects.
This exhibit has an abundance of activities for adults, family and children alike. There are artist-designed table tours, food demonstrations, themed weekend celebrations to name a few.
Look out for A Seat at the Table on Saturday, June 18, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Two thrilling sessions will explore how Black farming informs American history and culture in New York City and across the country. Natalie Baszile, author of We Are Each Other’s Harvest, joins Dr. Jessica B. Harris, food historian and scholar, for the discussion at Ross Hall, “Celebrating the African American Farmer.” In “Stories from the Farm,” moderated by NYBG Trustee Karen Washington (farmer, urban gardener, food advocate, activist) will lead a multigenerational panel discussion devoted to stories of Black farmers from many perspectives urban and rural, North and South.
For complete programming on this incredible exhibition, Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love, to to the NYBG website by clicking HERE.
Posted on June 8, 2022, in New York Botanical Garden, NYBG EXHIBITS and tagged Around the Table: Stories of the Food We Love, Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.