At the American Museum of Natural History, an Aztec marketplace. Suzanne DeChillo / The New York Times
"Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York certainly feeds an urge to invoke food metaphors.
But by the time you digest the piquant offerings and reach the lightweight, multicultural dessert - a film about how different cultures associate food and festivals - you are left with an expansive stance for interpreting the world and a weightier understanding of your place within it.
We learn that $4 trillion worth of food is bought and sold globally each year; almost two billion metric tons of corn, rice and wheat were produced in 2010. The show embraces the sheer immensity of its subject, including food's waste (30 percent globally) and absence (hunger afflicts 870 million people, or one in eight).
We see salted sea urchins as they might have been served to Livia Drusilla, wife of Emperor Augustus, in ancient Rome. In an elaborately detailed diorama of an Aztec market, a basket of toasted grasshoppers is offered.
A marvel of miscellany is assembled: cats can't taste sweets, and birds can't taste the spice of chili peppers; more Brazilian sugar is used for biofuels than for edibles; and watermelons are grown in Japan in glass containers that shape them into cubes. The kind of breakfast that the Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps typically ate as a teenager is vividly modeled: a five-egg omelet, a stack of syrup-drenched pancakes and more.
And no one who learns about Scoville Heat Units, or SHUs, which "tell you how much sugar water needs to be added to a ground-up pepper until its heat can't be tasted," will ever again insist that jalapenos are spicy. Their SHU is between 2,500 and 5,000, but in Trinidad a pepper variety has a Scoville measurement of up to two million units.