By Lacy Warner
You’ve just moved to Williamsburg, and you’re living the dream: the night life’s insane, there are loads of attractive people everywhere and the abundance of coffee shops is a freelancer’s fantasy come true. But turns out your parents are coming to visit—now what? What in this paradise is parent appropriate? Lucky for you, The Museum of Food and Drink opens an inaugural exhibition, “Flavor: Making It and Faking It,” in their new lab today. MOFAD, on McCarren Park’s southeast border in Williamsburg, is dedicated to examining food and culture; the manner in which we consume and produce both and how food and culture influence one another. As Emma Boast, Program Director for the museum says, “We are interested not only in the history of food, but also the science, technology, commerce, and production—we’re really looking at all angles of why we eat what we eat today.”
“Flavor”, the Museum’s first show in their new Brooklyn space, is a hands-on, smell-on, taste-on experience that reveals the surprising science and history behind the 25 billion dollar synthetic flavor industry—an industry that’s been in your mouth and mine. Chances are, if you’ve ever bought a product from a supermarket, you have consumed something created by the flavor industry.
The exhibit is a re-creation of the tactile science museums of our youths—remember the ones where you could step into a large soap bubble? The MOFAD lab has “smell machines” where aromas waft through silver hoses at the push of a button. A gum ball machine dispenses tablets with the synthetic flavors of natural foods like tomatoes, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese—just think how your five-year old self might have loved that—inside the door, a video displays the participant’s reactions as they respond to the smells and tastes of several unlikely products, nail polish remover among them. This joyful nature makes the lab feel like a playground for food education. Though it’s still bare bones—the lab is only supposed to be a teaser for the future museum—this is a sensory experience to do Willy Wonka proud.
Better yet, don’t wait for you parents to arrive—I suggest forgoing the obvious drinks after work and taking your next Tinder date to MOFAD. You and your date can share some major laughs over the “synth machine,” which allows you to combine 19 different aroma compounds—everything from smoky almonds, to sweet and fruity, to “boozy smell.” Careful, depending on which smells you choose memories of your college days may hit you like a ton of bricks.
“Flavor” is a comprehensive lesson, incorporating history, biology and economics in one thoughtfully informative show. Viewers consider the historical origins of commercial food production (the birthplace of synthetic flavors is a 19th century German lab) and are introduced to the enigma that is the tongue inside their own heads. The show also finally pulls back the veil on “MSG” otherwise known as “Umami,” the Japanese concept translated as “deliciousness.” We’ll spare you the spoiler on that one, just trust me that “Flavor: Making It and Faking It” will succeed in leaving you with plenty to consider and a lot of food for thought.
Lacy Warner is a recent graduate of the Columbia MFA Nonfiction program. She writes theatre criticism and penned the weekly column, “Sex, Love and Brooklyn,” for The L Magazine. She is currently working on a memoir about her childhood spent following her American diplomatic parents from one disaster zone to another. She has great hair. Follow her on Twitter @laceoface
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