By Karl Terry: Freedom New Mexico
A hearty stew is often best with a variety of ingredients and so it must be with a cultural stew centered around food.
The main ingredient to start that cultural stew in Portales arrives Tuesday as the New Mexico National Guard delivers the Smithsonian Institute’s latest traveling exhibit, “Key Ingredients, America By Food.” to Eastern New Mexico University’s Golden Library, where it will open Saturday and run through April 4.
The exhibit is a part of the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, which is administered with the assistance of state humanities councils. It celebrates the country’s food experience by looking at the history and cultures that have shaped it as well as the technology and agricultural innovation that has constantly changed the key ingredients available to Americans.
With five areas within the exhibit, and a variety of interactive displays, promoters say visitors can expect the full experience to take about an hour.
The exhibit will visit 150 rural communities throughout the country. Portales is the last of six communities in New Mexico.
Merlene Olmsted, a professor in ENMU’s Family and Consumer Science department, is heading up the exhibit’s visit in Portales, which is sponsored by her department, the Roosevelt County Cooperative Extension Service and the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce.
“It seemed like such a fabulous topic,” Olmsted said. “Humanities topics sometimes don’t always touch people. I thought, ‘My, food, everyone can talk about food. How could we let this go, when would we ever have this opportunity again.’”
Olmsted said that the New Mexico Humanities Council chose the communities in New Mexico that would get the exhibit and as part of the commitment that group wanted to see local events organized around the exhibit’s visit. Olmsted and the other organizers on her committee took that request to heart and admit they’re now viewed as over-achievers by the council for their long schedule of events.
Utilizing various departments from the university the talents and activities already planned by the Extension Service and the contacts of the Chamber a very full schedule of activities has been outlined.
Those activities range from art exhibits by both ENMU and public school students, historical programs with a food angle and a local connection, movie and book events related to food, Kid’s Day, Local Flavor Day, an Iron Chef competition, healthy eating topics and, of course, lots of food.
“The staff and faculty (at ENMU) have really gotten behind it, school groups are getting involved, it’s hundreds of people who have volunteered,” Olmsted said. “We’re trying to look at food with as rounded a perspective as possible. Yeah, so we’re overachievers, but not every other community has the resources to draw from that we do.”
Connie Moyers, extension home economist with the local extension service agrees that it’s a great topic and a good opportunity to remind people of the history and heritage involved with food.
“This whole area’s lifeblood has been agriculture,” Moyers said. “And food is the whole nation’s lifeblood. We just don’t often connect them up well.”
Moyers, who is on the committee working on the events surrounding the exhibit, will be doing several programs focused on healthy eating. She will present “Eat Smart Cooking” on Feb. 26 at the annual Ag Expo and she will lead a discussion after the viewing of the movie “Supersize Me” March 2 at Golden Library and a diabetic cooking school March 31 at ENMU.
“We do a lot of work with healthy eating and that’s (Key Ingredients) a good way to bring that into play,” Moyers said. “To me it’s just a way to reach an audience we wouldn’t necessarily reach.
Moyers says everyone probably has room to make improvements in their eating habits and she’s hopeful the programs will drive that fact through.
“Sometimes we eat too fast,” Moyers said. “We don’t even stop and enjoy the meal.”
Opening day activities begin at 2 p.m. Saturday with a reception, a ribbon-cutting and jazz band along with the opening of the juried art show “Food Poisoning,” featuring food-themed art of all types from ENMU art students. A food-related quilt show will also open that day along with “100 Years of Aprons” a local exhibit of aprons and other relics from local kitchens.
At 3 p.m. Saturday Rebbecca Gossett, a senior FCS student at ENMU will present a food demonstration entitled, “Sweet Potatoes or Yams.” Following the demonstration Greg Erf, art professor at ENMU and a member of the committee working on restoration of the Historic Yam Theater in Portales will give a program on the theater.