July 7, 2003 - The Triv-alley Herald: Iran RPCVs Tom and Meredith Hughes create "The Food Museum"

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Iran RPCVs Tom and Meredith Hughes create "The Food Museum"

Read and comment on this story from the The Triv-alley Herald on the husband-and-wife team of Iran RPCVs Tom and Meredith Hughes who created the "Food Museum." This year the museum has brought two shows to the Alameda County Fair. One focuses on the history and origins of the potato and another teaches audience members about the foods of the Americas. Read the story at:

Dig potatoes at Food Museum*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Dig potatoes at Food Museum

Husband-and-wife team also bring foods of Americas to fair

By Jerome C. Pandell, STAFF WRITER

PLEASANTON -- The Food Museum, an educational show at this year's Alameda County Fair, wants fairgoers to become addicted to spuds.

The husband-and-wife team who started the museum has brought two shows to this year's fair. One focuses on the history and origins of the potato and another teaches audience members about the foods of the Americas.

The museum, based in Albuquerque, N.M., was started in 1975 by Tom Hughes, a math teacher, and Meredith Sayles Hughes, author of 10 books on edible plants.

"We do exhibits that go into stores and we bring exhibits to fairs, schools, supermarkets and senior centers," said Tom Hughes, 58. "We do programs on food awareness and help people make healthy food choices."

The Hughes, part of the fair's Cooking Academy, will perform their show at 5 p.m. today and finally at 11 a.m. Sunday, the fair's last day.

The couple, who married while serving in the Peace Corps in Iran, started at what became known as The Potato Museum, an exhibit created by Tom Hughes in 1974 while he taught at the International School of Brussels in Belgium.

"There were 25,000 museums in the world and the author of an article I read believed there should be a museum devoted to the crop that changed the world -- the potato," Tom Hughes said. "The potato is the world's No. 1 vegetable."

By 1977, the potato exhibit grew to occupy three unused classrooms at the school in Brussels. Upon moving to Washington in 1983, the couple housed the potato museum in a gallery on Capitol Hill that attracted thousands of visitors.

From 1990 to 1993, Tom and Meredith Hughes served as guest curators at the Smithsonian Institution for the exhibit "Seeds of Change," which featured several artifacts from the Potato Museum as well as an exhibit on corn the couple created.

At the same time, the couple created a 6,000-square-foot exhibit called "The Amazing Potato" for the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Canada.

The couple's work for these two museums sparked an interest in expanding their museum and research, which took them to Peru and other potato-growing regions.

"The potato was the seed," said Meredith Hughes, 57. "Nobody else was doing what we do -- telling the story about these important foods." Upon relocating to Albuquerque, the couple opened The Food Museum, now specializing in the educational programming that is taking place at the fair.

"These programs are aimed at children and families," said Meredith Hughes just before a Tuesday show on potatoes. "A lot of children have never seen a food plant before. They get interested, they touch it and play with it and then we cook it and eat it."

While none of the couple's shows at the fair allow participants to eat, Tuesday's show drew about 20 fairgoers, mostly parents with their children. The couple kicked off the show with a short video on potatoes featuring the song "Addicted to Spuds," a parody by Weird Al Yankovic of the song "Addicted to Love."

"The potato gives you more nutritional value per acre than any other plant," said Meredith Hughes as she spouted off other interesting facts about the root vegetable. "Marilyn Monroe's career was made possible by the potato. Someone told her she was so beautiful that she would look good in a potato sack."

The couple invited four children to participate in the show by skinning a potato, juicing a potato and keeping track of how many times the couple said the word "potato."

Fairgoers also had the chance to examine up close about 15 of the world's 4,000 different varieties of potato.

"Just as people turn red, potatoes turn green when they are sunburned," Tom Hughes said. "(Also), somewhere in California every day of the year, potatoes are being grown. No other state can say that."

Gavin Hanna, a 9-year-old Hayward resident who helped juice a potato and skin a potato, said he enjoyed looking at the different tools used to dig up potatoes, which grow underneath the soil in Peru.

"I knew some of it, but not all of it," Gavin said of his new potato knowledge. Gavin's mother called the presentation very informative. "I love all the facts about potatoes," said Dolly Hanna, 46. "I never knew there was a front side, a back side, a topside and a bottom side on a potato."
More about Food Museum

Read more about the Food Museum at:

The Food Museum




Meredith Sayles Hughes

WEBSITE The museum's website, www.foodmuseum.com, aims to provide a virtual tour of the world's foods, based on artifacts from the museum's collections.

The site answers food questions, relates food news, reviews books, and describes the museum's programs. In the coming year the site will address major food issues and profile outstanding food-related companies and products.

MISSION The FOOD Museum examines what we eat and how we eat it, where it came from, how it has evolved, what its impact is on the world, and what its future may be. It researches, collects, preserves, exhibits and explains the history and social significance of the world's foods. The museum brings artifacts and programs to where people gather, both in person and on-line.

COLLECTIONS The Potato Museum, the non-profit entity from which

The FOOD Museum evolved, comprises the world's largest collection of artifacts and memorabilia on the history and social influence of the potato. The FOOD Museum's collections on the world's foods, from corn to cassava, from guinea pig to guava, build from that foundation.The archives and library are available to scholars.

PROGRAMS The FOOD Museum brings lively multi-cultural and interdisciplinary programs to schools, individual classrooms, teachers, festivals, and organizations. Its artifact-driven programs entertain and educate people of all ages.

EXHIBITIONS The museum has been exhibiting its collections for 25 years. An integral part of the Smithsonian's Quincentenary exhibition, "Seeds of Change," at the same time the museum was a principle participant in "The Amazing Potato," created by Canada's National Museum of Science and Technology.

The FOOD Museum loans artifacts to other institutions and also creates special exhibits on food subjects. The museum's kiosk program features a different mini-exhibit each month in natural foods groceries.

9908 La Paz, NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114 Tel 505 898 0909 FAX 505 898 3434

email: hughes@foodmuseum.com



"Seeds of Change," the Smithsonian Institution's Quincentenary Exhibition, guest curators.

"The Amazing Potato," National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa.

"Gaelic Gotham-The Irish in New York," Museum of the City of New York.

"Seeds of Change II," Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, Texas.

"Heritage of the Andes," Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, Albuquerque, NM.

TFM kiosks, Wild Oats Market, Albuquerque.

"Voici La Pomme de Terre," International Potato Exposition, Belgium.

Media coverage:

The New York Times

The Washington Post

The Boston Globe

Late Night with David Letterman

Good Morning, America

The International Herald Tribune

CBS Overnight with Charlie Rose

CBS Radio-Charles Osgood

National Public Radio

The Wall Street Journal

The Christian Science Monitor

CBC Radio

The Times of London

Irish Television

Japanese Independent Television


Asian Potato Association Triennial Conference, Kunming, China

The National Arboretum

The National Museum of American History

The National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa, Canada.

Colonial Williamsburg Docent Program

Sweet Potato Friendship Society, Kawagoe, Japan.

Maryland Old Farm Harvest Days

International Potato Center, Lima, Peru

Cornell University

San Diego Science Museum

Quail Run Resort, Santa Fe

Anasazi Heritage Center, Cortez, CO.

Geography Alliance Annual Meeting, Albuquerque.

Educational programs:

Rio Grande Valley Library System

Albuquerque Public Schools

Isleta Pueblo Gifted and Talented

Navajo Pine High School Teen Leadership.

Rio Grande Nature Center

Texas Pubic Schools

Association of Gifted and Talented

Sandia Labs Science Teacher Training

Albuquerque P.S. Teacher Training

Photo resource for:

Smithsonian Magazine

The National Geographic

The World and I

SITES Smithsonian

WGBH-TV, Boston

Knopf Publishing

California Academy of Sciences


The Great Potato Book

Buried Treasure: Roots and Tubers

Cool as a Cucumber, Hot as a Pepper: Fruit Vegetables

Stinky and Stringy: Stem and Bulb Vegetables

Yes, We Have Bananas: Fruits from Shrubs and Vines

Spill the Beans and Pass the Peanuts: Legumes

Glorious Grasses: The Grains

Flavor Foods: Spices and Herbs

Tall and Tasty: Fruit Trees

Green Power: Leaf and Flower Vegetables

Hard to Crack: Nuts


1975 Tom Hughes and his 5th grade students create a table-top exhibit they call The Potato Museum, at the International School of Brussels.

1977 The exhibit grows to fill three unused classrooms and attracts community and press attention.

"The Potato Museum …that idiosyncratic and deadly serious institution."

The New York Times

1978 Tom attends the European Potato Association conference in Warsaw, Poland.

1981-83 Sponsored by Frito-Lay, Tom tours the U.S. with objects from the museum, making press appearances and giving programs.

1984 Meredith writes The Great Potato Book for Macmillan, based on Tom's research.

1985 The Potato Museum moves to a Washington, DC, gallery space and is open by appointment.

1986 The Potato Museum incorporates as a non-profit. Dr. Richard Sawyer, Director of the International Potato Center, Lima, Peru, and Dr. John Niederhauser, future World Food Prize winner, serve on the Board of Directors.

1987 Tom wins a Klingenstein Foundation award for excellence in teaching and studies potatoes in Peru with an Earthwatch expedition.

"…this museum is of the new modern type, which cuts across academic frontiers; it's an enthusiast's

museum and our hard, cold, cynical world desperately needs enthusiasm."

Kenneth Hudson, author of Museums of Influence

1988 Meredith writes a paper which Tom delivers at the Asian Potato Conference Triennial in Kunming, China. The Hughes family tours China, Japan and Hawaii, collecting for the museum.

1990-1993 The Hugheses are guest curators for the Smithsonian's exhibition, "Seeds of Change." Simultaneously they work on "The Amazing Potato," an exhibition mounted by Canada's National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

"…a museum that gives sustenance the kind of attention museums give to wars, airplanes, human tragedy, and the like."

The Christian Science Monitor

1992 The museum moves with the Hughes family to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where it evolves into The FOOD Museum, broadening its focus first to foods of the Americas, then beginning to take on the world's foods.

"The most important issue confronting the human race is how we are going to preserve the quality of the environment and still feed the rapidly growing population into the next millennium.

The FOOD Museum provides a vehicle to get the message across."

Dr. John Niederhauser,

1990 World Food Prize Laureate

1993 The Hugheses produce the museum's first food history programs for kids and adults.

1994 The in-store kiosk exhibit project debuts at Wild Oats Market.

1995 The museum takes an exhibit to Belgium and loans objects to the City Museum of New York.

1996 The Hugheses launch the museum's website, foodmuseum.com.

1997 The Hugheses take teen programs to the Navajo reservation and begin summer programs for Isleta Pueblo's Gifted and Talented Project.

1998-00 Meredith writes 10 books for the Plants We Eat series published by Lerner.

Who's Who?

Tom Hughes and Meredith Sayles Hughes, founders of The FOOD Museum, met while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. They have been travel, art and food fans ever since, marrying while serving in the Peace Corps in Iran. After a stint in New York, they moved to Belgium in 1974, where Tom started The Potato Museum with his fifth grade students at the International School of Brussels.

Based eight years in Europe, Meredith was the managing editor of the English-language newspaper in Brussels and then oversaw European promotional events for Wrangler jeans. Tom continued teaching and also wrote travel pieces about Belgium. The Potato Museum grew and attracted wide press attention that led Frito-Lay to hire Tom as a spokesman for the potato. He did two national media tours for Frito-Lay. Meredith began work for Macmillan on The Great Potato Book, finally published in 1986.

Tom and Meredith settled in Washington, DC in 1983, where their son, Gulliver, was born. They opened The Potato Museum in a gallery on Capitol Hill where it attracted thousands of visitors by appointment only. During the next nine years, Tom taught at a private school while Meredith welcomed visitors to the museum. They traveled to China to speak at the Asian Potato Association and were guests of the Sweet Potato Society in Kawagoe, Japan. Winner of a Klingenstein Fellowship, Tom studied the potato in Peru with Earthwatch and also lectured at the International Potato Center.

The Smithsonian Institution discovered them in the late 1980's and soon the Hugheses were guest curating the potato section of the Quincentenary exhibition, "Seeds of Change. "Seeds" explored the interchange between the Spanish and native people of the Americas at the close of the 15th century . At the same time, Canada's National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa, approached The Potato Museum to work on a 6000 square foot exhibition dubbed "The Amazing Potato."

In the early 90's the museum's research and collections featured in both these national exhibits simultaneously. The Hugheses provided material for both the potato and the corn sections of "Seeds," and for its national traveling show, gathering a collection on corn in rapid time. They also contributed to the video and public television documentary which accompanied "Seeds," lectured docents, appeared in panels at the National Museum of American History and lectured at the National Arboretum. In October 1991 Smithsonian Magazine published Meredith's article on the potato's history.

After moving to New Mexico in 1992, the Hugheses began collecting artifacts on many of the world's foods, with special emphasis on foods of the Americas.

In recent years Tom has continued teaching and doing educational programs for children and teachers, while Meredith completed a ten book series called Plants We Eat, for Lerner Books, Minneapolis. They created foodmuseum.com, an on-line presence for The FOOD Museum, and mounted a kiosk exhibition on food that has appeared at Wild Oats Market in Albuquerque, and at La Montanita Co-op. Meredith writes "Ask The FOOD Museum," a regular feature in Albuquerque's weekly alternative paper, The Alibi.

Food is our focus, an all-encompassing subject we pursue with passion. Food is serious business. Ask any hungry person. Food matters. As our motto coined by writer M.F.K. Fisher precisely puts it, " First we eat, then we do everything else."

9908 La Paz, NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114 Tel 505 898 0909 FAX 505 898 3434

email: hughes@foodmuseum.com

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