Exploring global and local food cultures


MEAL (Museum of East Anglian Life) and the Cullture of the Countryside share and compare food knowledge through looking at museum objects.


Day one

In mid July, a group of 9 Work based Learners from MEAL worked at Barnes Farm, Stradbroke harvesting and moving the early potato harvest. The previous day the harvesting had been started by 75 local school children and the MEAL group finished off the job enthusiastically and efficiently. Some of the group remembered themselves or their family harvesting potatoes before going to school, whilst for others it was the first experience of seeing a potato crop growing. The harvesting jobs included checking that all the potatoes lifted had been moved and moving the plant tops to suitable composting and bonfire places. The group then visited Wingfield Barns to look at the Culture of the Countryside’s schools and community exhibition, the venue for the potato festival event in 3 days time.


Day two

Working with the WBL group at MEAL, the day started with handling and responses to objects from Papua New Guinea. The objects were mainly related to food storage- wooden, carved and painted food hooks and bowls. There was lots of discussion about the materials and the decorations used and also the possible stories behind the markings and use of animals and animal patterns on these objects. Personal comparisons were made with local food objects and how needs for some have dramatically changed. We then visited the museum’s Victorian kitchen to examine, compare and discuss similarities and differences and also the possible reasons for these. One of the group identified that nuts would be used to make much of what we eat in the form of dairy products, as milk, butter and cheese would not keep unrefrigerated in hot wet countries on the equator. Local dairy related objects are many in East Anglia and MEAL have a fascinating and informative range of diary related objects, including milk churns, butter churns, hand pushed milk carts and skillets. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon making and tasting butter, which everyone felt was much more simple and quicker than anticipated, though it didn’t taste the same as shop bought butter.


Day three

The day focused on local traditions and rituals associated with growing crops, harvesting and cooking. The group looked at the ploughing and harvesting machinery at MEAL, discussing and working out the time line of the machines and how they might have been operated. The overall feeling was of being very impressed at the ingenuity and ability to design and make machines that would make the life of famers easier over 100 years ago. We then went on to learn about and make corn dollies. These were usually made by men whilst harvesting and were often used to bless the future crops. In the afternoon local Suffolk twice baked rusks were made and cooked in a field oven.


Day Four

Day four of the M.E.A.L and culture of the countryside collaborative workshops continued with an opportunity to examine and learn about the cultural similarities and differences with food sourcing. We started the day handling, discussing and drawing world art hunting related objects, specifically North Australian boomerangs. We talked about the terrain, range of animals that might be caught and how different hunting skills responded to certain environments. A M.E.A.L volunteer, Roy had a collection of useable boomerangs, so the group tried these out in the grounds, quickly realising the skills and patience required. We then spent time examining and responding to local Victorian poaching objects, making connections between the ingenuity and individual making of these tools and the intimate carving of the North Australian pieces.


Day Five

Day five continued by studying and developing understanding of fishing skills, tools and surrounding culture. We began by handling and discussing the Sainsbury Centre outreach collection of objects from Papua New Guinea and spent time discovering the ways in which the close relationship between the Sepik peoples, water and water animals were represented in the objects, through the carvings akin to crocodile skin to the role of the canoe prows. Many of the group had experienced local fishing and the afternoon was spent learning about the techniques, tools and fascinating vocabulary associated with line and rod fishing. Paul Palmer led the practical fishing session in the M.E.A.L grounds and we even managed to catch a fish.



Day Six

The sixth session was a visit to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts to experience, draw and discuss some of the beautiful African and North American permanent collection pieces related to food, hunting and fishing. We were able to use the learning from the previous weeks to understand and enjoy objects which told slightly different stories of food sourcing, preparation and eating. We looked at walrus harpoons, baskets, bowls and much more as we wondered about and studied the variety of materials and skills used. The group also spent time looking at artworks in the gallery and enjoying the spacious building.