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February 28, 2018

Maine Food Insider: 'The Food Revolution Starts Here'

Photo / Maine Historical Society Old Nep the lobster was captured near Eastport around 1925. It was 40 inches long and weighed more than 30 pounds and was displayed at the Acme Theatre in that city. The photo is part of the “Maine Eats” exhibition, which opens at the Maine Historical Society in Portland on Friday.

Maine, and Portland in particular, is frequently cited as a foodie paradise, or at least destination.

For instance, Thrillist in December ranked Maine 13th among the states for its food and drink. Here’s what they had to say: “The Pine Tree State is a bit of a sleeping giant in the food world, and not simply because it is actually so big that you can be hundreds of miles north of Montreal, and still in Maine. Their dominance in the lobster game is legendary, but causes the rest of their excellent seafood game to be a bit shortchanged. Also, it's worth noting that these days, if you tell someone you're going to spend the weekend eating amazing meals in Portland, you had better specify which one.”

That’s nothing new those who live in the great state of food choices don’t already know — and memo to those from away: It’s not just about the lobsters, or even the seafood.

The Maine Historical Society, beginning Friday, opens an exhibition that showcases Maine’s relationship with food, making the point that it's one that goes way back. The year-long exhibition “Maine Eats: The Food Revolution Starts Here,” tells the story of Maine’s people and their role in its food history, and gives context to current food issues.

“Food is the universal building block of life — if we don’t eat, we will die. All of us,” the historical society said in a news release introducing the exhibition. “But food has a power that goes far beyond just biology. Why are we so passionate about what we eat? The food we eat shapes our lives, our memories, and our identities.”

The exhibition’s opening was designed to coincide with Maine Restaurant Week, which is actually two weeks, March 1-12.

Although lobsters play a starring role, the exhibition stresses that, again, it’s not all just about lobsters. It’s also about blueberries, potatoes, apples and maple syrup, as well as local favorites like poutine, baked beans, red hot dogs and Whoopie Pies.

And a life-sized soft-sculpture Italian ham sandwich. More on that later.

“Maine’s identity and economy are inextricably linked to food,” the historical society stated. “Sourcing food, preparing food, and eating food are all part of the heartbeat of Maine’s culture and economy. Now, a food revolution is taking us back to our roots in Maine: to the traditional sources, preparation, and pleasures of eating food that have sustained Mainers for millennia.”

The stories told in the exhibition range from historical to contemporary; they’re of individuals and communities.

“Throughout the exhibition, visitors are prompted to think deeply about the past, present and future of Maine’s relationship with food and to consider topics such as how Maine’s food is produced and consumed and how environmental and technological changes affect food,” the MHS said.

There will also be ways for visitors to interact, including food scents, a social media recipe exchange and — we are not making this up — a life-size soft-sculpture ham Italian sandwich that visitors can lie down in and take a selfie. It even has its own hashtag, #sandwichselfie.

But there’s a serious side — the exhibition is part of a statewide initiative to get Mainers, students and tourists thinking about the topics and issues surrounding food.

Besides the exhibition, the historical society is also offering public programming and educational activities.

The exhibition runs through Feb. 9 of next year. The Maine Historical Society is at 489 Congress St. in Portland.

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