“500 years of American food”—via the Smithsonian

Like language, the food of a people provides a window to the inner workings and values of those who live within that culture. Some researchers use the term foodways to refer to “the study of the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food.” Foods considered common in what is now Georgia before the arrival of Euroamericans include chestnuts and pecans, oysters and shrimp, and wild plums and blackberries, according to John T. Edge in the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Modern foods Georgia is well-known for include peanuts and peaches, and, of course, Coca-Cola products.

Archaeobiologists can identify food, or subsistence, remains found in archaeological contexts. Archaeobotanists identify plant remains and zooarchaeologists focus on faunal remains. Special samples are taken in the field (often soil containing pollen, small bones, wood fragments, etc.), then prepared to sort the remains from soil and non-remains. Once prepared, the long process of identification begins.

These remains help us understand relationships between humans and their social and natural environments, including subsistence strategies. Of course, in today’s world, most of us rely on grocery shelves for a significant portion of our food resources. But this was not true for our ancestors!

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The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street has prepared a traveling exhibition called Key Ingredients: America by Food, which has an “online educational companion.” In Georgia, this exhibition was co-hosted by the Georgia Humanities Council. Although the exhibit has left the state, the online materials, including a teaching guide are quite informative, and include a narrative timeline of five centuries of American food, which begins here.

Check out this web resource and learn what “three sisters” means when applied to New World foods, and what the ingredients of pemmican are.

The exhibition Key Ingredients: America by Food and its “online educational companion” was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). SITES was established in 1951 in part to fulfill a 1937 congressional mandate supporting the arts. To date, SITES has prepared more than 1500 exhibitions.