Restoring the chicken's glory at the Museum of Food and Drink

There used to be hundreds of chicken breeds; now, most farms only have two. Rethink America's most popular meat at the Museum of Food and Drink.
Meet 18 breeds of chicken — just a handful of hundreds that used to exist — at the MOFAD's new Highlights from the Collection exhibit. Credit: Peter Kim

Meet 18 breeds of chicken — just a handful of hundreds that used to exist — at the MOFAD's new Highlights from the Collection exhibit. Credit: Peter Kim

It’s time to meet the food you love most face to face. Brooklyn’s Museum of Food and Drink is back in action after a two-month revamp, and it’s brought out some of the hundreds of items collected over its five-year history in a small Highlights from the Collection exhibit.

 

“We realized we wanted to give visitors a sense of what we want to do with the full-scale MOFAD, and part of what we’re going to be about is displaying the incredible variety of food products that exist in the world — and part of that will be taxidermy,” says Peter Kim, MOFAD’s founder and executive director.

 

Though the museum remains in its modest Williamsburg digs for now, the renovation has opened up a space to highlight acquisitions like a 1927 General Electric Monitor Top refrigerator, considered the Model T of the culinary world. But the star of Highlights from the Collection are 18 breeds of chicken showcasing how the bird has changed over the millennia.

 

The birds all died naturally and were taxidermied into full, animated life by the award-winning Divya Anantharaman, who was the in-house taxidermist at the Morbid Anatomy Museum before it closed. “For a long time, we’ve wanted to do a chicken show to give people a sense of the pretty remarkable history behind what is actually America’s most popular meat by far,” he says.

The modern chicken Americans eat is very much a product of design, he says. “It started as a quirky and aggressive jungle bird in Southeast Asia,” he says. “Humans first domesticated chickens to actually use for entertainment.”

Humans eventually figured out that chickens were basically “like a machine that could turn bugs and worms and other things into eggs that you could actually eat.” Then came industrialization. The countless varieties of chickens developed by humans over hundreds of years collapsed into one or two breeds in America during the mid-20th century.

For now, it’s just the 18 chickens, but a future exhibit will explore the story in more detail: “What we hope to do is give people a sense of that story and some insight into the production process that goes into making modern-day industrial chicken meat and eggs, which on the one hand is quite a marvel of technology and efficiency, and then on the other something that can be quite unsettling when you understand the inner workings.”

And because you can’t be a Museum of Food and Drink without food and drinks, the newly expanded major exhibit Chow — about the history of the Chinese restaurant in America — serves freshly made fortune cookies off the conveyor belt of its in-house machine. MOFAD also has a tasting counter where visitors can sample authentic cuisine by local chefs or, with the new Chow Down ticket, sit down for a three-course meal.

The museum also holds regular tastings and classes, beginning with Spring Spirits, a series of boozy programs exploring traditional spirits from around the world, and Kids in the Kitchen, which brings top chefs together with aspiring young cooks.

The Museum of Food and Drink is located at 62 Bayard St., Brooklyn, open Friday-Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults; the Chow ticket is $25. mofad.org

 
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