The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention & Innovation
Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, Smithsonian Beanie Illustration

New Perspectives
on Invention and Innovation

Food for Tomorrow

November 5-6, 2010
at the National Museum of American History


Third Course

At the Table: Eating MealsTomorrow
Saturday, November 6, 2010

  • Amy Bentley, New York University
  • Janet Poppendieck, Hunter College, City University of New York
  • Vickie Kloeris, International Space Station and Shuttle Food Systems, NASA
  • Moderator: Ashley Koff, dietician and founder of AshleyKoffApproved

In the future, what and when will we eat, and will it be good for us? How will food taste? What have we learned from the space program about preparing, producing, and eating food in space and on Earth? Amy Bentley, Janet Poppendieck, and Vickie Kloeris discussed both past and potential challenges and successes related to baby food, family meals, school lunches, nutrition, and space food.

Amy BentleyAmy Bentley, New York University

Amy Bentley is an associate professor and a founding member in food studies in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. In her presentation, she focused on meals: "What are meals, how do we define them, what do meals do, what roles do meals play, how have meals been affected by industrialization, and what will meals be like in the future?"

"Meals function in many ways," she explained." First, they maximize the chance of a greater variety of nutrients. They also ensure that food is distributed equitably among family members and guests. Meals also teach and reinforce rules of civil society--how to share, how to have conversation, ideas about manners. They also can bring up incredible tensions, right? We’ve all been at family meals or meals among friends that have erupted in disaster. Meals also can mark a sense of time and also a sense of timelessness. Some of my day is marked by meals. Some meals also perform what we call a sense of liminality, a sense of timelessness. These tend to be holiday dinners, big celebratory dinners. There’s a reason that the Thanksgiving menu doesn’t change very much and that’s because we don’t want it to really change. We want to have a connection with the past and also some sense of prediction for the future by having a menu that stays pretty much the same."

How have mass production and globalization changed the meal . . . and what does the future hold? Watch the video of Bentley's complete talk to find out »

Janet PoppendieckJanet Poppendieck, Hunter College, City University of New York

Janet Poppendieck is a professor of sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York. She spoke about "the movement to take back the school kitchen from industrial prepackaged foods and from bulk convenience foods, to more preparation on site, more use of fresh foods." She described this movement in terms of "an effort to look at the whole plate and see if more of the food could be sourced from local, sustainable, and humanely-raised sources," and to concentrate the school lunch menu on food that can be sourced "locally or regionally at an affordable price," and featuring foods that can be grown in the local area. "Grow it, cook it, eat it has become a mantra of this effort to take back the cafeteria," Poppendieck declared. "It turns out children will eat vegetables if they plant them. If they work along side the farmer, and if they get a chance to do some cooking."

The other side of restructuring school lunches has to do with the "lunch ladies." "'You don’t have legs,'" a school service worker told Poppendieck. "She went on to say, 'You stand behind the steam table and the kids never see you as a whole person.'" Poppendieck believes that attitude needs to change. "We have to appreciate food service workers as part of the educational process."

Watch the video of Poppendieck's complete talk »

Vickie KloerisVickie Kloeris, International Space Station and Shuttle Food Systems, NASA

Vickie Kloeris, a food scientist with a specialty in food microbiology, is subsystem manager for the International Space Station and Shuttle Food Systems at NASA. She talked about translating earthly tastes to life in space. What do astronauts eat? Gone are the tubes of squishy gunk from the days of the Mercury missions. In addition to custom food recipes developed by NASA, astronauts also consume "commercially-available items that we package for our crew members to use on orbit."

Since "there are no dedicated refrigerators and freezers for food on any of the vehicles, whether it be the Russian Soyuz, our shuttle or the International Space Station," Kloeris noted that she and her team are constantly innovating methods of food preparation that retain both flavor and nutrients, as well as packaging that keeps the food appetizing even after months on the International Space Station (ISS). Beyond these practical considerations, Kloeris stressed the importance of the psychological role of food. "Our crew members all report how important it is for them to eat at least one meal a day together. When you’re stuck on a space station for 6 months, food is one of the few creature comforts that you have, and the psychology of being in a closed food system--and knowing that that’s all you’ve got and you can’t go down the street or you can’t order out--it’s a huge part of the mental satisfaction of crew members on orbit."

Watch the video of Kloeris's complete talk »

And what did the audience have to say? Watch the video of the discussion »

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Last Update: 10 Apr 2012

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