Food is a central element of the national park experience, though not always an obvious one. Barring the occasional granola bar, food is rarely represented in modern portrayals of the national parks. Perhaps Americans believe that food is too mundane or short-lived to exist alongside the parks—natural formations valued for their exceptionality and longevity. However, no exploration of the national parks would be possible without the energy that food gives us. What’s more, some national parks have food traditions woven into their identities. At Acadia National Park’s Jordan Pondhouse, for example, visitors line up to try the light, eggy popovers served with butter and jam for which the Pondhouse is famous (Osborn).
Just as the visual culture of the national parks has changed over time, so has the parks’ food culture. This exhibit explores the evolution of the national parks’ food culture from the late 19th century to modern-day using visual media like menus, paintings, prints, sculpture, and even Instagram photos.
While 1930s national parks food culture was dominated by the culinary traditions of French haute-cuisine and American comfort foods, it has since steadily moved toward “representative cuisines” which reflect the parks and their surrounding geographic areas. The contemporary food culture of the national parks reflects shifts in Americans’ food consciousness toward food that is environmentally sustainable, local, healthy, and plant-based.