Every Food Has a Story

wortHuman beings are nothing if not predictable.

It turns out that that is just as much true in ancient history as it is in modern times. Just as the explosive growth of the Internet may be attributed to an interest in porn, now we learned that the shift from hunter gatherer societies may be directly linked to a taste for the bubbly.

Last night, we attended Loving the Bubbly: Bread, Wine, and Beer, the second in the three-part annual Cooking the Tree of Life Program that the New York State museum puts on to celebrate Darwin’s birthday. Led by Museum Scientist Dr. Jeremy Kirchman and Chef Stephen Topper of the Copperfield Inn, the auditorium soon took an a party atmosphere as the sizeable audience – over 400 – took their seats, many carrying in wine or beer from the cash bar.

My teen had accompanied us, fully intending to tune out what she thought would be another boring, educational program. Instead, she was riveted by the performance.


When the scientist started explaining the evolutionary chart, she kept piping in my ear, “I knew that.” At one point, she gushed, “He’s funny.” As mention was made of fungi, I suffered through another mumbled rendition of the Fungi Song.  Honestly, the presentation was very informative and entertaining, but I don’t know how much I got out of it given the teen filter.


I’m pretty sure that Dr. Kirchman was making a compelling argument about how artificial selection and genetic modification of food has been going on for thousands of years as humans selected yeasts that produced the best beers, wines, and breads. And I did catch an interesting question: Given that bread is the result of 12,000 years of genetic modification, how do you explain the popularity of Wonder Bread?

That’s a burning question for the ages.


We ate, we drank, we laughed, and we even learned a thing or two. My children walked away with a desire to brew root beer and bake bread.

Even if all they had gotten out of it is that science is fun, that would have been plenty.

Next Up:

Potato: The Perfect Human Food – Wednesday, March 2, 2011 – 7 p.m., NY State Museum. For the first few million years, the potato tuber was just a nifty adaptation to help plants store a bit of energy underground. Then humans discovered how nutritious it was, started experimenting with its evolution, and created the perfect human food. Dr. Roland Kays, curator of mammals at the State Museum, gives the evolutionary back-story to the tuber that changed the world, and the Food Network’s Chef David Britton cooks up examples of cuisine it has inspired.


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